“How to beat aches and pains if you love to fly”
by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit
Flying is exhilarating.
Piloting your plane gives you freedom that’s hard to describe. And the vantage point you get… looking down at the world is a treat- an experience- very few people have the opportunity to get. But flying has its own share of problems. And one of them is PAIN!
Flying is a set up for neck pain. The long hours spent lifting and carrying the equipment... along with the flying itself can lead to neck strain. This causes muscle aches in the neck and shoulders. You can also get headaches. So what do you do? Well, first, recognize that this is going to happen if you don’t take frequent breaks particularly if you hold your head in one position for a long time. It’s a good idea to stretch before and after you fly!
Your shoulders can also hurt. When you work with your arms held in one position… and especially if you work with your arms at shoulder level, you can run into a problem called impingement syndrome. This is when your rotator cuff tendons get pinched. It’s a common problem. Specific stretching exercises for the shoulder before and after you do any type of activity that requires arm movement should help. Also, make sure you take frequent breaks. Ice packs after you work sometimes help with the pain as do over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines.
Elbow pain is a common problem after any type of repetitive arm motion. If you do any type of maintenance work on your plane… can lead to painful condition called lateral epicondylitis. This is a type of tendonitis that affects the outside part of the elbow. Stretching before you fly can help as can stretching and ice after you fly. Anti-inflammatory medicines, an elbow band, and physical therapy also can help. Do not get a cortisone injection! This injection may help with the pain short term but it weakens tendon tissue. Instead, get an injection of platelet-rich plasma (PRP). This is a concentrate of blood that contains many platelets. Platelets are cells that are loaded with growth and healing factors. PRP will help with pain and will rebuild damaged tendon tissue.
Hand and wrist pain is another common problem. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition where the median nerve into the hand gets pinched. Keeping your hand on the wheel or throttle can cause this. Carpal tunnel syndrome causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the hand. Treatment consists of physical therapy, a splint, and sometime injecting with steroid. In some instances, surgery is required. Different forms of tendonitis can also develop after any kind of repetitive activity. You can get trigger finger where the finger seems to stick. A painful tendonitis of the thumb can also be a result of flying… especially if you grip the wheel too hard and for too long.
Low back pain can come on from sitting too long in one place. Long hours in the cockpit can cause severe back fatigue and back pain. If the pain radiates into the buttock or down the leg you may have sciatica (pinched nerve). Use a lumbar roll and also use one of the many neck support pillows available. Low back pain can also be a result of lifting and carrying heavy articles. Make sure you lift with your legs. You may need to go down on one knee before you lift. Keep your back straight and your head up. Test the item you’re going to lift before you lift it. Don’t twist. Stretch before you and after you fly. Use ice packs if you strain your back. Over the counter medication can sometimes help also. See your doctor if the pain is severe or doesn’t go away within a day or two.
Your hips and knees can also stiffen up. Take breaks… and stretch.
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