It’s no secret that airplane seats aren’t designed with comfort as the top priority. After sitting in cramped quarters for hours on a long flight, it’s common to have some aches and pains, especially in the neck area. Neck pain and stiffness from flying can result from having to sit in an abnormal position for an extended time. Luckily, there are ways to prevent and relieve neck pain after a long plane trip.
Why Airplane Seats Cause Neck Pain
The seats on airplanes are positioned very close together with limited legroom and reclining ability. This forces most passengers to sit in a poor posture for hours, with the neck flexed forward and the head jutting forward rather than aligned over the spine. Maintaining these unnatural spinal positions strains the muscles, connective tissues, and joints in the neck and upper back. The immobility also reduces blood flow to the muscles, causing them to become stiff. Sitting by the window requires frequently turning the head to see the aisle, which adds repetitive strain to the neck. Airplane cabin pressure and dry air can also trigger muscle tension. All of these factors combine during air travel to put stress on the neck region.
Tips to Prevent Neck Pain In-Flight
While it’s impossible to completely avoid neck discomfort over the course of a long flight, there are things travelers can do to reduce the strain:
- Use a travel pillow to support the neck and keep the spine in a more natural position
- Get up periodically to walk the aisles and stretch
- Perform gentle neck stretches and rotations while seated
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which cause dehydration
- Take pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen before discomfort sets in
- Don’t cradle a phone or book – hold them at eye level to avoid neck flexion
- Request a seat with more legroom or near the aisles for easier stretching
Making efforts to improve posture and muscle relaxation during the flight will go a long way towards preventing debilitating neck stiffness.
Relieving Neck Discomfort After Landing
It’s common for neck soreness caused by air travel to linger or even intensify once you reach your destination. Utilizing the following self-care tips can help alleviate post-flight neck pain:
- Apply a cold pack to the neck and upper back to reduce inflammation
- Use a handheld massager on the neck and shoulder muscles
- Take over-the-counter pain medication
- Perform gentle neck stretches and exercises like chin tucks, neck rotations, and side bends
- Get a professional massage focusing on the neck and shoulders
- Take a warm shower or bath to relax the muscles
- Maintain good posture and avoid hunching over electronic devices
- Sleep in a comfortable position with neck support from pillows
- Stay hydrated and limit caffeine and alcohol intake
Persisting neck soreness after 48 hours may indicate an overuse injury or muscle strain. Seeking treatment from a doctor, chiropractor, physiotherapist, or massage therapist can provide relief through modalities like joint mobilization, muscle release techniques, therapeutic exercises, electrical stimulation, and prescribed medication. Those who frequently get neck pain from flying should explore treatment options to correct underlying postural issues.
Preventing Recurring Airplane Neck Pain
For frequent flyers, it’s sensible to take precautions between flights to avoid cumulative neck injuries related to air travel:
- Perform neck strengthening and flexibility exercises
- Use ergonomic pillows and chairs that support the natural curve of the neck
- Get regular massages along with trigger point therapy
- Maintain proper posture when sitting at work and home
- See a chiropractor or physical therapist to correct spinal misalignments
- Consider a travel pillow with side wings for extra neck support onboard
With some preparation before flying, attentiveness to posture while in the air, and restorative self-care after landing, the neck pain that often arises from airplane seats doesn’t have to ground your next adventure.