Aeroplane flights are both an exciting and draining part of any holiday or work trip. Whilst you are at altitude the pressures within the cabin are much lower than you would experience at ground level. This makes it very hard for the body to absorb oxygen into the bloodstream, and can result in swelling in your legs or feet.
Regardless of anything written below the most important thing is to stay hydrated. The Aerospace Medical Association suggests around eight ounces (230ml) of water for every hour you fly. You should be getting up to go to the bathroom, which is a good movement to encourage blood flow back to the heart from your legs and reduce the chances of any clotting or DVT (deep vein thrombosis).
Being immobile for long periods of time can also cause your muscles to get tense and become fatigued, even in the days following your flight. There is nothing worse than starting a holiday stiff, sore and in discomfort but there are a few ways you can try to avoid this.
How to remember these exercises? Just sing the song!
“Heads, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes”
-Sitting on one hand with your palm facing up
-Using your other hand reach over your head to above your ear
-Gently pull your head away from the shoulder
Hold for 10-15 seconds and return to normal. Complete 2-3 times per side.
-Roll your shoulders in nice big circles, forwards-upwards-backwards.
Try this for 30 seconds to 1 minute as needed.
-Then whilst you are waiting in the inevitable bathroom line, find a small spot of cabin wall where you can place the length of your forearm
-Make sure your elbow is at 90 degrees (or just above shoulder height), gently move your body forward to feel a pulling of the muscle across your pectoral region.
Hold for 25-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
-Moving your bottom to the edge of the chair
-Lift one thigh at a time, hold for 1-3 seconds and lower
Complete 8-10 times on each
-Complete the exercise again, but this time bend forward and interlock your fingers around your knee
-Draw the knee towards your chest and hold
Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the other side
-Sitting on your chair, lift your foot so it is clear of the ground
-Use your foot to write each letter of the alphabet in air, leading with your big toe
Complete two sets every two hours
What to do once you get to your tropical island, hotel room or friend’s couch?
Put your legs up against the wall of course!
-Find a wall and a spare area of carpet
-Lie on your back with your sit bones as close to the wall as possible (you can also place a rolled-up towel under your hips to aid the pressure on your lower back)
-From here extend your legs so they are straight up the wall (you may want to shuffle your bottom further away at this point, depending on your flexibility)
-Slow your breathing, stretch out your arms and try to stay here for five minutes
Need some more stretch?
-Interlock your fingers behind one thigh, gently pull your leg away from the wall, you should feel a gentle stretch
-From this position complete some foot circles, three times in each direction. And then swap to the other side.
This exercise was taught to me by a yoga instructor many years ago and I have found it so effective that I teach it to my own patients almost daily in clinical practise. It helps reduce oedema or swelling in the lower leg by reversing the effects of gravity. This basically means you are in the opposite position to where you have been for the duration of your flight.