Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Is flying turning your muscles to jello?

My good friend Patrick Ward of Optimum Sports Performance wrote this for Air Vitals, at my request. The topic came up in a phone conversation and it seemed very pertinent to all of you!

I was recently asked a question about airline pilots and the effects that dehydration may have on their soft tissue, causing them to get tight and stiff following a flight. Really, this could apply to anyone who is flying across country (or across the globe) and it has special application to athletes who may have to fly frequently to get to competitions. Having the soft tissue in healthy working order is essential to performing at a high level.

Airplane cabins tend to very dry and, at least to me, often very hot. This dryness wreaks havoc on our bodies. Without water, we may sense ourselves feeling thirsty, our lips may start to chap and our skin gets dry. Our body gets dehydrated and the quality of the tissue begins to suffer. In addition to this, we are sitting in one position for an extended amount of time.

In these conditions, our tissue can dehydrate and harden due to stress, disuse and lack of movement, all which take place when we sit for hours on an airplane! Our tissues lose viscosity, harden, and become more gelatinous, creating friction when layers of fascia rub against each other. No wonder people feel so lousy after flying!

3 Tips for Frequent Flyers

1) Drink water!

Pass on the alcohol, the coffee and the soda and get yourself some water. In fact, make sure you adequately hydrated before getting on the plane. Bring your own bottle to the airport and drink it before during and after the flight.

2) Work on your soft tissue when you land.

Obviously, having a good massage/soft tissue therapist is a great way to maintain healthy tissue. However, when this is not an option, using a foam roller, the massage stick or even a tennis ball can be a great way to put some compression into the tissue and roll back and forth to help manipulate the soft tissue and prevent stiffness. Foam rollers can now be bought in smaller sizes, about a 1/3 the size of the long ones, making them easier to travel with.

3) Lengthen the tissue.

Once you have worked on the soft tissue, be sure and perform some stretches for the muscles you worked on to help restore proper length and extensibility.

Final note: I do run these posts past an experienced flyer before posting. My expert in this case shared that many pilots do avoid hydrating to avoid the complicated security procedure they must engage in, in order to leave the flight deck to use the bathroom. The one time he tried to at least hydrate shortly before landing...the flight was diverted and that became a problem, too...

...there's no perfect solution to this dilemma, except to be aware of the importance of hydration and do the best you can, when you can.