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19 Ways to Relieve Muscular and Joint Pain on a 19-Hour Flight

by Athletico3 Comments

I just got back from an amazing trip to the Philippines!  The country, the culture, the people who live there were all fantastic!  The airplane ride, however, was not so fantastic. I painfully scrunched myself in economy class, where my knees were especially angry with me on the way there.  However, on the way back, I implemented these 19 ways to relieve pain on a 19-hour flight, and my body was very thankful!

  1. Use your airplane blanket as a back support. Roll the blanket up and place it in the small of your back either horizontally or vertically for support higher up.
    blanket behind back on an airplane vertical blanket behind back on an airplane
  1. Get up and walk around. Annual incidences of blood clots are about 1 per 1000 adults and prolonged immobility, such as sitting on a plane for a long time, increases your risk. (Cushman) Getting up to use the bathroom and walking down the plane occasionally, may lower your chance of stiffness, pain and a blood clot.
  2. Strategize your pillow position. Love your neck pillow?  Me too.  However, placing it behind your head puts your neck in a forward position, which is not ideal for long periods of time.  Try putting your neck pillow in front of your neck and then resting your head on the side of the pillow.

incorrect neck pillow posturecorrect neck pillow posture

  1. Stand up at your seat. Most airplanes have low ceilings over the seats making it difficult to stand up at your seat. However, many larger planes used for longer flights have slanted ceilings allowing improved room for standing up.
  2. Stretch your arms.
stretch your arms on a plane stretching on a plane stretching your arms on an airplane stretch your arms on a plane
  1. Stretch before you get on the airplane. Don’t sit in a chair waiting to get on your flight!  Stretch at your gate and stretch well.  Hold stretches for about 20 seconds and target each group of muscles.
  2. Stretch your legs. These are great to do before you get on the plane and in the back of the plane.  I did these all on the plane and nobody told me to sit back down.
stretch your legs on a plane lunge stretches on an airplane stretching on a plane side stretches on a plane lower leg stretches on a plane
  1. Stand and walk around the airport before you get on the airplane. Again, don’t sit at your gate!  You will be sitting for the next several hours so getting your muscles, joints, and blood moving will benefit you in many ways.
  2. Stretch your back. When you stand up, bend backwards a few times to counteract the forward position of sitting.
back stretches on a plane stretching your back on an airplane how to stretch your back on an airplane
  1. Select an aisle seat. Sitting by the aisle allows you space to stretch out your legs. Even if you don’t leave your legs there, being able to straighten your knees a bit can provide good relief.
  2. Pump those ankles. Pumping your ankles keeps the blood flowing in the legs, also assisting in prevention of a blood clot.

move legs around while sitting pumping your legs while sitting

  1. Come prepared with tape and compression stockings. If you are someone who has had therapy and responds well to taping your knees, bring some tape.  If you are someone who recently had surgery or may be prone to swelling in your legs, consider wearing compression stockings.
  2. Stretch your neck.

how to stretch your neck on a plane  stretch your neck on an airplane

  1. Massage yourself. If you aren’t moving, your blood isn’t moving as well either and your muscles will get tight. Massaging tight and sore muscles can help you feel a little bit looser.
  2. Contract your muscles. Your muscles support your joints and help keep them in good alignment.  By tightening each muscle of your body, one at a time, and then relaxing it, you can provide some good relief to those joints. Tightening your quadriceps, the muscles in the front of your thigh is great for discomfort at the kneecap.
contracting leg muscles contracting leg muscles while seated flexing muscles while seated contract all muscles while on long flights
  1. Take your time in the bathroom. True you can’t just hang out in the plane’s bathroom, but take a good 3-5 minutes.  Most planes with long flights have multiple bathrooms so you won’t be holding up a line.  This gives you some space to stand, wash your face, and give your body a break.
  2. Wear supportive shoes to the airport. Airports are big and flip-flops and high heels give your body more stress than it needs before you sit for hours and stress your body even more.  Wear good shoes to support your joints through the airport.
  3. Wear loose and comfortable clothes. Restrictive clothes will restrict your joints.  Your joints are already going to have a tough time moving, so untuck that shirt and wear those yoga pants.
  4. Decide you are okay with looking a little crazy and know that everyone else on the flight is secretly a little jealous of you because they want to get up and stretch too!


Cushman, Mary. “Epidemiology and Risk Factors for Venous Thrombosis.” Semin Hematology 10 (2008): 62-69.

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  1. Helen4576

    Wow! I think I can definitely implement these ideas with ease. This actually helps me relieve from sudden headaches and burning sensation that I used to get on a minimum of 4 hrs journey in flight. I have migraine and sinus problems which causes this burning sensation and uncomfortability.

  2. Daniel Walker

    It’s a nice actionable article. I suffered from back pain for nearly half of my life. Sitting for prolonged periods of time was impossible, and this made travelling very difficult for me. I wasted thousands on chiropractic treatments, aqua and compression therapies until I found a local clinic that offers physiotherapy treatment in Toronto. It took a lot of time, but my money didn’t go down the drain. The biggest problem with treatment of chronic pain is its proper diagnosis.

  3. Teresa

    I have bookmarked this website. Last time I was on a long flight I was in agony. These steps should help!

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