Simple, seated exercises can help avoid health pitfalls on long trips |

Simple, seated exercises can help avoid health pitfalls on long trips

CJ Cebul, DPTAlpine Physical Therapy & Wellness Clinic, PCFraser, Colorado

Many people are getting ready to travel for the holidays. The dangers of long flights in cramped quarters can lead to minor calf discomfort with severe repercussions if left untreated. Blood clots, called deep vein thrombosis (DVT), can occur after periods of being immobile, such as on long plane flights.The risk of DVT increases during travel of eight hours or more due to immobility. An estimated 10 percent of passengers on long flights may develop a DVT. A clot in the legs may dislodge and travel to the lungs, called pulmonary embolus.Symptoms of leg DVT include swelling in one or both legs and tenderness in the calf. Symptoms of a pulmonary embolus include shortness of breath and a high heart rate. People who experience any of these symptoms should always see the doctor, especially if they occur after a long period of immobilization. Compression stockings are recommended to help reduce the risk of DVT. The compression helps keep excess blood from remaining in the leg veins, helping to prevent clot formation.Physical therapists also suggest that when you have little room to move and stretch, do some simple, seated exercises to keep the blood flowing, the joints mobile, and the muscles relaxed while en route. Simple exercise can help prevent other typical symptoms experienced by people who fly, including leg cramping, toe cramping, and general lower-body aching. Sitting still for long periods may lead to swelling of the feet, which becomes obvious to many passengers when they try to put their shoes back on at the end of their flight. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) suggests that passengers not stay seated for the duration of the flight and recommends that passengers walk up and down the aisle of the plane every hour or so to work the leg muscles and ease the back that is, if the captain has turned off the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign.Some other simple exercises to do while sitting include: ankle pumps/circles (moving your feet toward and away from your head or in circles in the air), heel-toe raises (feet on the floor raise up and down) and marching. Performing these exercises will keep the leg muscles from contracting and will help relieve stiffness during the flight. The exercises also will help prevent fluid build-up in the legs, and stretching the back and the muscles around the torso will prevent stiffening. If you have an existing back problem, appropriate guidance should be given to you by your physical therapist before any extensive flying.Sitting in such a cramped position also puts a lot of stress on the lower back, especially for people who have pre-existing back problems. If you have brought along hand luggage or a rolling case that fits under the seat, use them as foot rests to elevate your feet so that your knees are level with your hips when you are sitting.These simple steps to incorporate on your trip while visiting family and friends can help you avoid a potential, serious life-threatening condition. Don’t let your vacation get you down.

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