Knee Pain After Flying: Why Does It Happen & What To Do About It

Last Updated on March 27, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • The cartilage in your has no blood supply and requires movement to support the diffusion of nutrients into the knee
  • It’s important to stand up and move your knees to reduce knee pain when flying
  • Avoid inflammatory foods and alcohol during your flight

Firstly, I will say that I am not a doctor so don’t take anything you read here to be medical advice.

I just happen to know a bit about knee pain after flying that I will share with you. If you have serious long term knee pain then consult a physician.

Flying puts a stress on our bodies. There are many ailments that are related to flying. Many people experience swollen ankles after flying Then there is deep vein thrombosis and flying and even just leg cramps after flying.

And who hasn’t experienced back pain after a long flight in economy class.

It’s a dangerous business going out your door and getting into an airplane even more so!

Knee pain is common during and immediately after flights so if you are experiencing it then you are not alone. It’s especially common for knees to hurt after long flights.

Flying with a knee injury that already exists also requires extra care, thought, and preparation and this post should help with some tips.

This post looks at the risk factors and has a few tips that will provide you some relief from post-flight aching knees.

What Causes Knee Pain After Flying?

If your pain is under your kneecaps it might be CMP or chondromalacia, also known as runners knee.

This is a condition where the protective cartilage that is located under your kneecaps is degraded in some way either through injury, aging, or because of a structural anatomical problem with the kneecap.

Medical conditions such as arthritis or gout can also cause knee pain that might be exacerbated by flying.

And, the changes in air pressure that you experience during a flight can also cause tissues to expand and put pressure on your joints.

The body is continually repairing damage caused by free radicals and everyday wear and tear and the knee is no exception.

When any part of the body is damaged it needs nutrients in order to repair itself. Usually, these nutrients are delivered via the bloodstream.

The cartilage that you’ll find in your knees or other joints is a special type of tissue in that it does not have the blood vessels that normally deliver nutrients.

Instead, in order to get the nutrients into the cartilage, the body requires movement. The nutrients diffuse from surrounding connective tissue into the cartilage tissue and movement causes compression and expansion of the cartilage which helps that to happen. It’s almost like the nutrients are massaged into the tissue by the action of using the joint.

And when you are stuck on a flight with your knees bent and unable to stretch out your legs your knee cartilage is not getting the nutrients it needs in order to maintain and repair itself.

A bent knee is also not a natural resting position for the knee. So sitting in a plane seat with knees bent for a long time puts extra stress on the joint while simultaneously preventing it from continuing it’s normal repair activities.

How To Avoid Knee Pain After Flying?

Now that you know the cause of flight knee pain you will probably have an idea what to do about it.

You need to bend your knees as much as you possibly can during a flight in order to help the nutrients work their way into your knee cartilage so your body can do the work it needs to do.

You can help avoid knee pain after flying by:

  • Standing up frequently to walk around – You need to move that knee, especially during long flights. Get the blood flowing around your legs and also get the compression needed to help the nutrients diffuse into your cartilage.
  • Choosing an aisle seat – If you are sat in the aisle you can easily get up and move around without disturbing other passengers.
  • Upgrading your seat – If you can afford an expensive seat where you are able to stretch out your legs you will probably experience much less knee pain when flying. However, flying is bad for the environment and flying first-class is extra bad so overall it’s perhaps a selfish move.
  • Taking the train – Many flights could be replaced by taking trains, especially for shorter distances. When you figure the time it takes to get to and from the airport and compare it with a train that will take you directly into the city center trains can often compete better than you thought. Add in the fact that you can easily go for a walk up and down a train carriage and it might be worth it to avoid flying associated knee pain.
  • Scheduling a layover – It might be worth breaking up your journey into 2 smaller trips rather than 1 prolonged sitting period. When planning your itinerary check if there is any stopover destination that is appealing.

Preventative Knee Care Before & After Your Flight

There are many general knee care tips that you can read up on before flying at all.

Often we think about knee pain as something caused by an injury. This can be true but also the condition of our knees is also an aspect of our overall health.

Carrying extra weight puts undue stress on our knees and eating an inflammatory diet causes damage to our joints.

It’s a good idea to learn how to take care of your knees not only after a painful flight but in everyday life. That way when your next flight comes around your knees will be in tip-top condition and ready to take the punishment your economy class ticket is going to throw at them.

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet around the time of your flight might be helpful in some cases. Also try the R.I.C.E. technique of rest, ice, compression, and elevation as soon after your flight as is possible. This may help to reduce knee inflammation caused by your flight.

Cut back on sugar and alcohol in particular while you are flying. These ‘foods’ cause inflammation and will contribute to knee pain.

The Verdict

You maybe don’t realize how frequently you move your knees in everyday life. If you are sitting at a desk or at a kitchen table you’ll bend and move your knees frequently. This natural movement is facilitating the continual repair of your knee.

It’s the unnatural environment of an aircraft cabin with zero legroom that causes knee pain. You can’t move your legs or your knee while sitting in your plane seat and that is the main reason they ache afterward.

If you must fly, moving as much as you can during the flight is the best thing you can do to avoid your knees hurting after you have landed.

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