In the past year, I had to fly a lot. And by that I mean I started counting and lost track after about 30 flights. Most of these flights took me between Washington, DC and Los Angeles, requiring me to sit for 5+ hours on the plane. After a few of these flights, the annoying symptoms of air travel such as leg swelling and jet lag started to really bug me and I began thinking as an acupuncturist. What would I advise a patient of mine if he or she complained of these symptoms? Immediately, I realized that Chinese medicine offers effective solutions for both of these issues. It is quite amazing to think that TCM can help for the symptoms of air traveling, invented way later than Chinese medicine!
So if you are like me and fly a lot long distances or if you just need to fly once in a while, read this to optimize your flying experience and your wellbeing following the air travel.
Problem: Swelling (especially in legs)
Why does this happen?
Any prolonged sitting can cause swelling in the legs and feet. This happens because the blood pools down to your lower extremities and muscle contractions that do not happen during inactivity cannot help the mobility of the blood and lymph fluid and the fluids accumulate there.
- Because swelling is first of all caused by inactivity, make effort to get up and walk around. If the seatbelt light is on and you have to stay in your seat, make sure to flex and unflex your ankles and avoid crossing your legs, as this cuts off circulation.
- Wear loose and comfortable clothes to avoid stifling your circulation.
- Drink a lot of water BEFORE the flight and avoid salty foods and alocohol. When you are flying, you can get easily dehydrated, and both this and high salt or alcohol intake can make you retain more water than usual.
- Wear compression socks. High quality compression socks are tight and prevent the blood pooling in your lower extremities.
- Perform self-acupressure. There are a lot of acupressure points you can stimulate to help with circulation to prevent swelling. I suggest the following points as they are easy to locate and are very effective.
Large Intestine 4
This point is located the dorsal side of the hand between the thumb and forefinger metacarpal bones. Find the sore point for the best results. Using your thumb or the dull end of a pen or pencil press on this point firmly 9 times, holding it for 2-3 seconds before releasing. This point strongly moves both blood and Qi and in addition to helping this movement, it can help prevent a stress headache and sinus congestion that is common in passengers.
This point is located on the inner side of your leg, four fingers width above the highest peak of your ankle bone. Often this point is sore. This point relieves water retention and swelling. Wrap your hand around your leg so that your thumb is over this point, press and hold it for up to a minute several times during your flight.
This point is located on the inner side of your leg, approximately 4 fingers width below the knee crease, and below the medial condyle of the tibia. Often this point is sore, especially if you are prone to water retention. This is probably the most powerful point for water retention. Use the same acupressure method as for Spleen 6.
Problem: Jet Lag
So this is one of the most annoying symptoms of air travel for me. The feeling of being tired, out of place and vaguely sick that does not go away for a few days after traveling, that is if you do nothing about it.
Why does this happen?
When you travel from East to West or West to East, you cross several time zones. Jet lag is a physiological condition that occurs when the circadian rhythm or sleep and wake cycle is disrupted by rapidly changing time zones. Jet lag is also made worse by breathing cabin air because its lower oxygen levels can contribute to the feeling of tiredness. Because the circadian rhythms are involved in all body systems, the symptoms of jet lag can include sleep disturbance, digestive issues such as constipation, headaches, and fatigue.
- Set all your clocks including your phone and watch to the destination time zone time as soon as you board the plane. This tricks your mind into resetting your internal body clock faster to the time at your destination and will help you get over jet lag faster.
- Wear sunglasses or sleep mask on the plane. According to this study, this can reduce the jet lag.
- Drink plenty of water before and during your flight. Dehydration from the dry cabin air will make jet lag worse.
- Drink caffeinated beverage in the morning. It can increase alertness and may help the body adjust to the new time zone. Be careful and avoid caffeine in the afternoon or evening.
- Horary acupressure. This is a brilliant way from TCM to help avoid jet leg first introduced by John Amaro, D.C., L.Ac. According to Chinese medical theory, each meridian has a two hour window during each 24 hour cycle, when this meridian is most active and a two hour window when it is least active. The most active two hour period for each meridian is called horary peak. Each meridian has a horary point, a specific point that can help move Qi from one meridian to to another to help reset the circadian rhythm, even in midflight and adjust to the time zone at destination.
Horary meridians in the 24 hour cycle
Here is how to use the horary system to reset your body’s circadian rhythm
When you set the clock to the time at destination, use the horary meridians chart above to find the active meridian. For example, if the time is 11:30 a.m. at destination, the active meridian is Heart. Using the following list, find the horary point to stimulate: