If you're stuck in a cramped seat, try one of these tactics.

Without room to stretch out in an airplane's cramped, constricted seats, many travelers ache soon after takeoff. Even those with excess legroom often suffer thanks to exhaustion and dehydration. (And let's not forget about jet lag, which can cause body aches and pains even after you land.)

If you'd like to fly ache-free, then here are four tips to prevent the most common flight pains.

women in airplane seat reading book
Credit: Kathrin Ziegler / Getty Images

Book the right seat.

If you can afford it, consider booking a business class or economy-plus seat, which will give you more space and legroom while you're seated, says Soma Mandal, M.D., board-certified internist and women's health specialist. And if that's not within your budget, then do your best to book an aisle seat. That will give you the freedom to stand up whenever you want, without disturbing any other passengers. Moving around will help ease aches and pains and prevent blood clots in legs.

Pack light.

The heavier your luggage, the more strain you put on your body. Not only can carrying a heavy backpack (on your back) cause pain you'll likely feel during your flight, but lifting any kind of heavy luggage into an overhead compartment can cause back stress, explains Jacob De La Rosa, M.D., cardiac surgeon. "The heavier the [luggage], the more strain you put on your body," he says. So, "if you have a very heavy carry-on, it's worth checking the bag so you don't strain."

Stay hydrated.

When we're dehydrated, we're more susceptible to aches, so Mandal recommends avoiding any alcohol or caffeine before and during flight. To make sure you can drink plenty of water on the plane, buy a few bottles before you board. That way, you won't have to rely on a flight attendant. 

Use a neck pillow.

While some airplane seats have adjustable head rests, some don't; for that reason, it's worth packing your own neck pillow to prevent neck pain on your flight, says De La Rosa. Whichever method you use, just keep your neck in a comfortable position, rather than pushed forward or dropped to the side. That will prevent you from getting a sore neck—or a headache—during the flight, he says.

If you experience leg pain or cramps—especially in your calves—during flight, don't ignore that ache, Mandal warns. "The most dangerous type of ache in the body during a flight can be a blood clot," she explains. If your family has a history of blood clots—or if you've had recent surgery, smoke, or have gained extra weight—you could be at a higher risk of getting a clot during flight.

"These clots can move up to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism, and cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and palpitations," she describes. If you experience these symptoms while flying, then call a flight attendant. "Medical attention is needed immediately," Mandal says.


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