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Preventing Travel Aches and Pains

Summer often means time for travel whether it be “up north” or to more exotic locations. If you are currently dealing with musculoskeletal pain or if you have aches and pains from traveling, we have some tips for you to enjoy your trip more and to have less stiffness when you return.

We tend to sit for most of our traveling and often the space is limited in cars or airplanes which makes shifting positions difficult and reduces recovery of your fatigued postural muscles while increasing the load on your spine. Traveling for several hours can cause substantial lumbar spine pressure and associated pain.

Also, when you’re stuck in an airplane seat or in a vehicle, it shortens your:

  • Hamstrings

  • Hip flexors

  • Lower back muscles

  • Hip muscles (glutes and quads)

After “being shortened” for an extended period, your muscles become tight upon standing. Not to mention, because you were bending your legs for the whole trip, your blood wasn’t circulating properly and wasn’t nourishing your muscles which can also result in pain. To put the least amount of strain on your back while in an airline or car seat, place a pillow between your lower back and the back of the seat. If you don’t have a pillow handy, taking a sweatshirt and rolling it would do in a pinch. This support will keep you from slouching and help your back maintain a natural lumbar curve which will reduce the likelihood of back spasms. Also, keep your knees bent at a right angle to offset stress on the lower back.

The C-shaped seats aren’t an ideal position to be sitting in for long periods of time. They “offer no lumbar support,” according to professor of Design & Environmental Analysis at Cornell University, Alan Hedge Ph.D., CPE. They also push your head and neck forward, adding to your discomfort. Slouching in an airplane seat also accentuates the unnatural C-shaped sitting position. To maintain proper posture, you should keep your spine in the neutral S-shaped position.

One of the best ways to prevent neck pain is to avoid having your head in an unnatural position for too long, a likely scenario if you happen to fall asleep while flying in a plane, for instance. This causes the muscles in your neck and shoulders to tighten up, and neck pain results. Carrying a small travel pillow, preferably one made with foam or small beads, will help support the neck and if you do fall asleep, you won’t wake up with a kink in your neck.

Traveling when you have neck pain can be a challenge. Remember to take frequent breaks to stretch and relax your neck muscles. Always keep your neck supported with good posture and a neck pillow, if needed. With some pre-planning and by keeping these basic principles in mind, you will arrive at your destination without having aggravated your neck.

Another tip (which may not be as obvious): stay hydrated. Start hydrating several days before your trip as dehydration can make joint stiffness and neck/back issues worse. In fact, when the inner gel of the spinal discs gets dehydrated, the discs are more vulnerable to stress which puts them at an increased risk of a bulge or a tear. So, drink water throughout the car ride or flight, which will also force you to go use the bathroom and move around.

If traveling still aggravates or causes pain, a few simple yoga moves can help decrease your pain. These are handy to have with you whenever you travel (see below). Our exercise specialist, Sam, also made a video with stretches to do at rest-stops or in your seat itself (link below)! Enjoy these last weeks of summer: Happy Travels!

Summer Travel Stretches with Sam:

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