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7 Tricks to Ease Aches on a Long Flight

Susan, Certified Massage Therapist Jul 8, 2017

Summer is a wonderful time to travel. Reaching my destination feeling good is a big part of enjoying my trip. Here is what I have learned to help make long flights more comfortable.

6 Tricks to Ease Aches on a Long Flight

1. My back usually isn’t to blame.

Like many people, my low back can ache on a long flight. On a direct flight from SFO to Dallas, I find myself curling up like an armadillo. My back gets stuck in that position, totally stiff.

Before I was a massage therapist, I would try to stretch my low back. I learned that when I slump down in an uncomfortable airplane seat, my back is actually over stretching. What I really need to do is work on lifting my heart up and stretch my abdominals. I like to take over both arm rests and push my heart toward the front of the plane to relieve my back.

2. It isn’t my shoulders, either.

If the head is a tree, then the trapezius muscle are the roots. The trapezius muscle is much bigger than I once believed. It extends all the way down to the area of the spine between the shoulder blades. Imagine the strain on the roots of a tree that starts to lean over. That is what happens to the lower trapezius fibers when I look down at my tablet, book, or inflight entertainment for hours on end. The counter balancing muscles of the neck on the front side of the body are the pectoral muscles. I like to take a little walk to the back on the plane and find a place I can do a modified pectoral stretch to give my upper back a break.

3. I need something to look up to.

The third area that gets over stretched on a long flight is the back of the neck between the top of the shoulders and the base of the skull. This is the trunk of the head-tree. By looking up at the call button, mini-air conditioning thingy, or the fasten seat belt sign, I feel a deep stretch in the front of my neck, giving the back of my neck a break. From this position, I turn my head to look up and down over both shoulders. This is a wonderful activity with earbuds and an audiobook.

4. The calves are your Second Heart.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the calves are said to be the second heart. Many with cardiovascular issues are told that they need to use their calves more. This is because the long trip blood takes from the feet back up to the heart takes a very special vein. This vein lives under the calves and has two unique valves. As I walk up and down the airplane aisle, blood that was pooling in my legs is pumped by the action of the calves contracting. This prevents ankle swelling and other lower leg issues as the pumping of the calves helps the blood to overcome gravity so that I can start my trip off on the right foot.

5. I invite as much meditation as possible.

If I try to meditate on a plane, I already failed. One of the things I really enjoy about a long flight is the opportunity to practice the lost art of being bored. I like to see how slow I can get with my breath, my heartbeat, and my thoughts. If this results in meditation (or even sleep!), then that is OK with me.

6. Two carry on must-haves.

Those inflatable neck pillows always looked silly to me until I tried one - and now they look very, very smart! I like the inflatable style because they pack down into my bag very well.

My other secret is bringing a golf ball with me. I use this to roll out the tendons on the bottom of my feet. These tendons become the calves, then the hamstrings, then the long muscles on either side of the spine where they mohawk around the skull and connect to the eyebrows. Releasing the tendons on the bottom of the foot can make a difference for tension along this whole chain.

7. I book my next massage before I leave.

One good, long flight usually necessitates another. I need a break after all the hustling of travel. I like to book a massage before I leave for the week I get back home. The laundry can wait! 

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