I’m preparing for an epic trip to Ireland and London and I could not be more excited. I was having a little anxiety about how to stay comfortable for my first long haul flight, especially since my recent accident that affected my back a little. My friends at the Laser Spine Institute agreed to be my special guest to share some great travel tips for staying comfortable during your travels.
As you consider possible vacation destinations, you might envision yourself relaxing in a tranquil setting, such as the award-winning beaches at Fort De Soto Park in the Tampa, FL, area. Of course, before you begin to unwind, you’ll have to get there first, and traveling can be uncomfortable even under the best of circumstances. But, if you’re one of the millions of Americans who have chronic back pain, the prospect of being confined to the cramped quarters of a plane, train, bus or car might tempt you to ditch your plans altogether and just stay home instead. This type of extreme strategy isn’t necessary to avoid pain, though. The key to traveling comfortably is learning to make your ornery back adapt to your active lifestyle, instead of the other way around.
One of the main reasons that traveling and back pain often go hand in hand is that the human spine is designed for constant motion – essentially, the polar opposite of being restricted for several hours in an awkward seated position. Think about the basic shape of an economy seat on an airplane, which was created for maximum space (and cost) efficiency, and not for passenger comfort. Because this type of seat does not provide adequate spinal support, it’s easy to see why so many air travelers (even those with good backs) experience lingering neck, back or leg pain after a long flight. But, with some general awareness and proactive planning, this type of discomfort doesn’t have to be inevitable.
- Support your back – To make a non-ergonomic seat more bearable, bring along a small lumbar support pillow and place it in between the seat and the inward curve of your lower back (you could also use a standard airline pillow or roll up a blanket or jacket). To further support your spine, it’s important to maintain good posture while you are seated, keeping your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent at a right angle. If your seat is too high, use a footrest.
- Pack light and lift your luggage in stages – Keep in mind that you will have to lift and carry your belongings while traveling, and this can help you avoid the temptation to over pack. When lifting a heavy object like a suitcase, it’s best to move slowly and break the task down into several small steps. For instance, you can raise your carry-on bag to the top of your seat, rest briefly, then lift it to the overhead compartment in a separate motion. Also, be sure to bend at your knees and power your lift with the strength of your leg muscles instead of your back muscles.
- Get up and move around – Sitting for prolonged periods of time can cause your hamstrings and hip flexor muscles to stiffen, which in turn can stress your lower back. Try to get up out of your seat and walk around at least once every hour so you can lightly stretch your shoulders, neck, back and legs.
- Apply ice and heat as needed – To help you cope with pain episodes that occur while you are en route, place a small bag of ice or a disposable hot pack between your seat and your lower back. You can alternate the application of ice and heat for 10-15 minutes each.
- Wear comfortable shoes – Whether you are moving about during your travels or participating in physical activities like hiking, running, tennis and other sports after you reach your destination, your choice of footwear can have a significant effect on your back. Avoid wearing high heels and flip-flops; instead, choose shoes that are appropriate for your activities. Comfortable shoes that have sturdy soles and sufficient arch support can provide the supportive base your spine needs to stay properly aligned.
If you take some simple steps to make yourself more comfortable while traveling, you can avoid many common mistakes that trigger and worsen back pain. This will also help lower your stress level and ultimately allow you to make a perfect getaway, any time of year.
Dr. Jeffrey Langmaid D.C. – As a chiropractor at Laser Spine Institute, Dr. Jeffrey Langmaid works to ensure that each patient has a firm understanding about their spine care options. He has also presented and lectured at multiple hospitals and continues to showcase his expertise as a featured speaker at chiropractic conferences.