Bad Back? Tips for Pain-Free Traveling
By DR. KENNETH HANSRAJ
Vacations are meant to be relaxing, but traveling can cause increased stress on the body and ultimately be a literal pain in the neck and spine. With 80 percent of Americans suffering from back pain, the thought of a long trip in an uncomfortable seat can be discouraging. Luckily, back pain associated with travel can be greatly reduced and, in many cases, avoided with a few easy steps.
Prepare: Cut the time you spend standing in long lines by planning ahead. Buy e-tickets, take advantage of frequent-flyer perks, use check-in by smartphone and check your luggage curbside. This will eliminate the time spent standing and carrying bags.
Travel Light: Don’t overpack. A light suitcase will reduce the stress on your shoulders and spine. Pick a suitcase with wheels and a handle for rolling.
Check Your Posture: Sitting for prolonged periods can strain the back and improper posture can make it even worse. To provide the most relief, make sure your spine is aligned against the back of the seat and the headrest is supporting the middle part of your head. Keep the shoulders straight and avoid rounding forward. Both feet should be firmly resting on the floor.
It's All in the Legs: Keep your legs out in the extended position. The bent or flexed position leads may cause a blood clot to form in the leg veins. Make sure you get up and walk and stretch your legs and arms at least once an hour.
Tilt It: Tilting your seat backward with a pillow behind your back in proper posture will lead to the efficient loading of the spine. Many seat neck rests have two foldable pads on each side that can be adjusted close to your neck to prevent sleeping in an awkward position.
Simple stretches of the neck, shoulders, back, arms and legs will help keep the blood flowing. Blood brings important nutrients and oxygen to the structures of the back. This helps stimulate the soft tissues in the back and keeps them from stiffening. Just a few seconds of stretching and moving is better than not doing anything at all. However, if you're experiencing significant pain, stay away from range-of-motion exercises until you can be evaluated by a physician.
Stretch: Airplanes and cars are cramped, so try to do stretches against a tensed muscle for resistance. Here are a few sample stretches:
Flexion: Bend neck forward.
Extension: Bend neck backward.
Side Bends: Tilt neck to the right, then to the left.
Rotation: Rotate neck to the right, then to the left.
Flexion: Bend forward.
Extension: Bend backward.
Side Bends: Tilt back to the right, then to the left.
Rotation: Rotate back to the right, then to the left.
Shoulders and Arms
Place both hands in a doorway, holding on to the sides, similar to Superman about to take off. Lean forward into the doorway, leading with your chest. Hold this position for 30 to 45 seconds. Repeat three times.
Legs and Calves
Standing hamstring stretch: Bend forward at the waist, keeping the legs relatively straight, and gently try to touch the toes. Hold this position for 30 to 45 seconds. Repeat three times for each leg.
Sitting hamstring stretch: Place straight leg onto an object at about a chair's height. Keep the leg straight and flex your foot and toes. Lean in to this stretch. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat three times for each leg.
Breathe: Deep belly breathing helps to move the spinal joints and spinal nerves internally. Practice deep belly breathing when sitting in good posture and while stretching.
Drink Water: It's important to hydrate properly when traveling. Proper hydration leads to better internal fluid dynamics, internal motion and efficient blood volume.
Relax: Don't forget to enjoy the trip! Stress causes tension in the neck and spine, which can lead to back pain. Traveling should be exciting and relaxing — and don't let the unexpected delay or the person sitting one seat over spoil the trip. Be aware of your thoughts to make sure that the focus is on staying happy, relaxed and content.
Readers -- Do you currently suffer from back pain? When making travel plans, do you have to take special precautions to prevent exacerbating the pain? Do you have any tips or tricks to prevent pain and soreness when you travel? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Kenneth K. Hansraj, M.D., Chief of Spine Surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine is the author of the international bestseller, Keys to an Amazing Life: Secrets of the Cervical Spine. Most recently, Dr. Hansraj published "Assessment of Stresses in the Cervical Spine Caused by Posture and Position of the Head," which revealed that using a mobile device could result in almost 60 pounds of stress on the neck and spine.
Dr. Hansraj believes in whole-body wellness, preventative care and that the spine is a principal indicator of general health. He is board-certified by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery, the American Board of Minimally Invasive Spinal Medicine and Surgery and the National Board of Medical Examiners.