Nothing puts a damper on a trip like arriving at your destination with body aches after flying. Unfortunately, uncomfortable airplane seats often cause exactly that to happen, especially on long-haul flights. But there are things travelers can do during the trip to help prevent that discomfort, such as taking frequent walks up and down the aisle, getting the right neck pillow and lumbar support, and wearing effective (but still cozy and fashionable) compression socks.
Despite your best efforts, though, it’s possible that once you check into your hotel you might notice that you have body aches from flying or leg cramps from being confined in a small space for hours. The good news is that there are solutions. Here are several tips to prevent and relieve postflight body aches.
1. Hydrate before, during, and after your flight
Hydration is always essential for well-being but especially so on long-haul flights. To avoid dehydration, think about your water intake before you even leave the house and have a plan to hydrate during your flight, according to Dr. Ron Kapp, who represents the Wellness Tourism Association. “Seventy percent of our bodies are made up of water, and airplanes are highly dehydrating, which is going to have a tremendous effect on your body, causing headaches, overall discomfort, and jet lag,” says Kapp. He recommends buying a bottle of water (after going through TSA security so it’s not confiscated) and, depending on your palate, adding a supplement like Athletic Greens to negate dehydration, as well as get extra antioxidants while in transit.
2. Dress right during the flight and after, to help with circulation
It’s important to be comfortable on a flight so that you can easily move around to keep your blood flowing—but what you wear makes a difference. Compression socks can help prevent deep-vein thrombosis, or blood clots, caused by remaining stationary for long periods of time. (They can be cozy and fashionable too, so put a couple pairs in your bag.) But even clothing can affect our bodies when we’re seated for a long time. So when you get to your hotel room, change out of the clothing that’s been constricting your skin and circulation all day (ideally, get into something loose fitting).
3. Do some yoga stretches
Now that you’ve slipped into something more comfortable, you might want to add some yoga poses to stretch tight muscles and relieve the tension that can cause body aches and leg pains. “Doing a flow postflight, you’re not only moving your body but reinvigorating circulation throughout the limbs and stimulating blood flow,” says Sarah Levey, founder of Y7 Studio, a yoga studio with locations in New York and Los Angeles. She recommends forward fold and downward facing dog as two poses that are in opposition to the seating position in flight. “Forward fold reverses the blood flow from the feet to the top of the body, and down dog elongates the spine and stretches the hamstrings and shoulders,” says Levey. If you want to up the ante and there’s a studio nearby, a heated yoga session can further accelerate your body’s recovery after flying. “The heat allows for greater blood flow and circulation,” says Levey. “At Y7 we use infrared heating technology [to heat studios], which heats the body from the inside and accelerates the detoxification process.”
4. Sample a compression therapy session
Once you arrive at your destination, a number of devices can help manage soreness and swelling. You may want to pack a mini massage gun like the Hypervolt Go, which takes up surprisingly little space and can help tap aches out of your legs, back, and shoulders. If you stay at a wellness-forward hotel brand like Six Senses, you can try out a compression therapy session, which increases circulation and decreases muscle tension. “We offer compression therapy in every Six Senses today in the form of Normatec compression boots,” says Anna Bjurstam, wellness pioneer of Six Senses Spas and Wellness.
Bjurstam spearheads the hotel chain’s wellness initiatives globally and oversees the spa program of each property. The boots inflate and deflate with air, similar to a blood-pressure cuff, to stimulate the legs. “Compression therapy helps increase blood circulation in the lower legs, ankles, and feet,” says Bjurstam. “It’s an effective treatment for pain and swelling caused by conditions associated with flying as compression helps relieve tight muscles, decreases pain, and promotes relaxation.” The boots are for sale online, but if you don’t want to shell out or the hotel you’re at doesn’t have that option, there are other ways to stimulate your muscles . . .
5. Make friends with a foam roller
If your hotel has a gym, there are probably a few foam rollers lying around. Use them to massage away any muscle knots in your lower body and back—foam rollers help elongate the muscle tissue, which can make aches subside. Or you can look for a travel foam roller that packs easily in your luggage.
6. Book a massage
Even better than a foam roller? A massage therapist. The smart idea is to book a massage in advance so that you can arrive at your hotel and immediately experience bliss.
7. Try the hot and cold method
A combination of heat and cold therapy can provide relief for body aches and leg cramps caused by stiff or sore muscles. Dampen a hand towel and place it into the minibar fridge to cool (but not freeze), then massage sore body parts with the chilled towel for up to 20 minutes. Follow with a warm shower.
8. Take an Epsom salts soak
If you have a tub in your room, follow your cooling session with a warm bath instead of a shower. Add some healing bath salts to the mix for an extra boost. Try Haus Urban’s Super Swing Muscle Soak, which relaxes muscles, facilitates recovery, and can even improve your sleep.
9. Get some sleep
Your relaxing bath should be followed by a solid night’s sleep—or at least a nap. Lying down will re-energize your system and stimulate blood flow to your muscles and relieve those body aches and pains from the flight.
This article was originally published in 2017. It was most recently updated on April 28, 2023, with additions.