Nov 4, 2022 In-Seat Exercise Tips for Your Next Flight

The Physical Therapy Team from The Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center Rehabilitation centers offers in-seat exercise tips to help avoid the aches and pains that often follow a plane flight.

By: Patricia Nolan, PT, MPT, CLT-LANA and Damaris Ababio, PTA, MSCS, Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center

You just landed at your destination, excited and ready for your vacation to begin. You stand up, but suddenly, pain and stiffness in your knees, hips and back pulls you back into your seat. We’ve all been there, and this can certainly put a damper on the start of your trip. But no need to worry, here are a few tips to help you avoid this on your next flight.

Exercises to perform while on a flight:

  • Seated Ankle Pumps – with your feet on the floor, raise your heel up and then lower your heels and raise your toes up. Do about 10 to 20 repetitions every 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Seated Ankle Circles – lift one foot off the floor and roll your ankle in a circular motion. Go clockwise and then counterclockwise. Do about 10 to 20 repetitions every 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Seated Marches – sitting tall with knees bent, lift one knee upwards (while maintaining an upright posture). Repeat on the other leg. Do about 10 to 20 repetitions every 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Seated Scapular Retractions – sitting tall, gently push your shoulder blades back and together for a few seconds. Do about 10 to 20 repetitions every 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Shoulder Rolls – sitting tall, gently roll your shoulders backwards 10 times, then forward 10 times. Repetitions every 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Neck Stretches – sitting tall, turn your head to the right, hold for a few seconds then repeat on the other side. Next, look up, hold for a few seconds, then look down and hold for a few seconds. Do about 10-20 repetitions every 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Diaphragmatic Breathing – close your eyes and place your hand on your upper abdomen or just below your ribcage. Now take a deep breath through your nose and try to have your ribs and abdomen expand as you feel your hand on upper abdomen rise. Do this slowly for about 5 seconds, then slowly exhale and feel your hand move down.

Additional Tips:

Compression socks – Light weight, knee high compression socks support the veins and help prevent swelling. Socks should be comfortable and should not cause deep impressions in the skin. Always trial wearing before you travel to ensure good fit.

Walk around – When you have the opportunity, and it is safe to do so, stand up and walk down the aisle of the plane. This will help circulation in the legs and keep joints from becoming stiff.

Maintain good sitting posture – Airplane seats can lack lumbar support, use a small pillow or a rolled jacket at your lower back to keep a good lumbar curve. Also, holding devices and books low by your lap can cause slouching. Keep them at eye level to prevent a forward flexed head and rounded slouched shoulders and upper back.


Damaris Ababio, PTA, MSCS, is a Physical Therapist Assistant at the Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center. She treats patients with neurological and orthopedic conditions as well as balance and gait deficits. Damaris completed her education at Essex County Community College in May 2011 and has been working at the ACC since October 2011. Damaris is currently a Multiple Sclerosis Certified Specialist (2018) and an LSVT BIG certified therapist (2020). She also serves as a member of the International Organization of Multiple Sclerosis Rehabilitation Professionals and the American Physical Therapy Association. When she’s not working, Damaris enjoys spending time with her family, participating in philanthropic work or carrying out DIY projects.

Patricia Nolan, PT, MPT, CLT-LANA, is a Physical Therapist at the Barnabas Health Ambulatory Care Center. Patricia has 21 years of clinical experience, and has been on staff in the ACC physical therapy department since 2006. Her areas of specialty are lymphedema, breast cancer rehabilitation and pelvic floor dysfunction. She always strives to provide compassionate and understanding care for her patients.

The Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center Rehabilitation centers are open and ready to help you achieve your goals. With four locations in West Orange, Millburn and Livingston, the experienced and compassionate staff at Cooperman Barnabas Rehabilitation offers adults and children the specialized care they need to resume an active life after surgery, injury or illness. They are committed to providing patients with the most advanced services in a safe, caring and soothing environment. For high-risk patients who are unable to visit in person, telehealth is an option. Patients do not need a prescription for physical therapy services.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call 973-322-7500.