The best part about travel is being in a new place. Getting there though – that can be a long, uncomfortable, and cramp-riddled task. This is going back a while, but I was once a competitive athlete and often travelled for races. This meant that things like leg cramps after flying or sitting in a car all day were a no go – I had to be in top shape on arrival. No legs cramps, no back pain, muscle knots, or neck soreness.
I picked up a few secrets for travelling without cramps and soreness that I still use today. It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete or not – who wants to start a trip off all cramped up and full of knots? There are some easy things you can do!
Why do you get leg cramps after flying?
Whenever you sit for an extended period of time (or stand for a long time even) blood pools in your legs. This goes for planes, long car rides, and even countless hours at your desk if you don’t get up and move around. Planes are a little worse because there’s literally no where to go and you can stretch your legs in the small space. There’s no pulling over and getting out for a walk to stretch it out.
There are some serious dangers that come with this too – the longer a flight, the greater the risk for deep vein thrombosis, a more serious occurrence that includes swelling, cramps, redness, and a swollen area in the leg.
Finally, you’re probably drinking less. Travel days often involve rushing around without drinking, and then not wanting to drink on the plane so you don’t have to use the restroom. Put it altogether – immobility, dehydration, and cabin pressure – and you get leg cramps after a long flight.
Note: if you’re concerned that you might have a condition or are notable pain in your legs stop reading blogs – see a doctor!
How to Prevent Leg Cramps After Flying and Other Travel Soreness
(and just generally any leg cramps and soreness too!)
Wear Compression Socks
Compression socks (also known as compression stockings) work by applying even compression to the lower legs. When you sit or stand for long periods of time, blood naturally circulates more in to your lower legs due to gravity. Compression socks give your veins a boost by helping to push the blood back up to your heart. They help to prevent sore legs and leg cramps after flying or long car rides, and also great for people with jobs that involve sitting or standing all day as a preventive measure against things like varicose veins.
Put Your Legs Up the Wall
Much like with compression socks, the goal here is to help your blood circulate back towards your heart. In yoga this is known as Viparita Karani and it’s recommended that you start with 5 minutes and then build up to longer (15-20). It’s the first thing that I do when I’m settled in to a hotel room on a trip, and every night during a trip after walking all day!
Pack Your Yoga Balls
My yoga tune up balls are probably the single most-used thing that I own for recovery and muscle cramps. I’ve had them for years, and I take them on every trip. They’re these small special rubber balls that grip your skin and multiple layers of muscles allowing you to rub out adhesions. It’s basically a deep tissue massage wherever you are. I use them to release tension from my neck regularly (I sit a lot to write these blog posts!), my lower back, and my feet and legs after a long day of travel or exploring.
Here are some youTube videos to help you get started:
Or view on Amazon.ca (cheaper to order from Amazon.com using the image link above)
Muscle cramps are often a symptom of dehydration, and I definitely become dehydrated while travelling. I don’t love using the washrooms on places so I often drink less than I otherwise would. On the ground, travel is just so fun and full of adventure that I forget to drink. It’s not just water though. To be properly hydrated electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride, etc) are also important for proper hydration. This is where electrolyte powder comes in handy. When do drink water (and you need to!) just add a packet. This is not a replacement for drinking enough water, it just provides better hydration because you now have water and electrolytes.
This product is also available on Amazon.ca but is cheaper to order from Amazon.com.
Stretch it Out
Even a short travel yoga sequence can go a long way! Off the plane, yoga or a stretch is a great way to release tension and combat leg cramps after flying. You might notice your neck tightens up to, which you can do a little bit to combat while you’re actually on the plane. There are some great, short yoga sequences on youTube that you can try that are perfect for any level.
- Yoga for Travel (hotel room)
- Plane Yoga (neck stretches for on the plane)
- Yoga Under 10 Minutes (playlist of short yoga sequences with all different focuses so you can target any problem spots)
Use a Travel Foam Roller
Quite likely you’ve heard of or tried a foam roller before but did you know about travel foam rollers? Foam rollers are used for myosfascial release. Fascia is a dense, spider-web like system throughout the body and fascia can become adhered to your muscles. Ouch! Foam rolling (and yoga balls) release this.
The beauty of the travel foam roller is that it’s small and hollow. It fits easily in a carry-on sized suitcase and you can actually pack it full of stuff. You’re not losing any packing space! Here’s an introductory video on using a foam roller if you haven’t before.
View on Amazon.ca (recommended for Canadians)