When it comes to “things that make back pain worse,” hanging out at the top of the list is always some form of “prolonged sitting when traveling.”
For chronic back pain sufferers, travel may seem daunting because whether you’re stuck in a car or on a plane, it’s simply not as easy to get up, stretch, and move around frequently.
Dangers of Prolonged Sitting
Have you heard? “Sitting is the new smoking” accordingly to a 2017 report in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Linked with early death, even for people who exercise regularly, sedentary behavior and long bouts of sitting at a time are proving to be detrimental to overall health and longevity.
Associated all-cause mortality aside, prolonged sitting is also known to do a number on the back, compressing vertebrae, straining low back muscles, tightening hamstrings and hip flexors, and causing you to practice poor posture habits.
Unfortunately, much of travel involves long bouts of sitting. So what can you do about it?
6 Travel Tips for Back Pain Sufferers
Travel offers so many rewards. Whether it’s journeying to new places and learning about different regions and cultures. Or simply affording you the opportunity to catch up with family and friends.
Skipping travel because of your back pain, however, can be more detrimental to your mental and emotional health than you know. Don’t miss these smart travel tips for back pain sufferers:
1. Sit on a cushion.
Your doctor likely will have recommended this if you see her or him for chronic back pain. But a back pain relief cushion can do wonders for alleviating some of the stress on the spine and tailbone that prolonged sitting causes.
By supporting the natural curvature of the back and better distributing the weight across your sitting bones, seat cushions and lumbar spine supports can help you sit up straighter and travel with less pain.
2. Avoid staring down at your phone.
“Text neck” is a very real and prevalent syndrome that results in tense neck and shoulder muscles plus inflamed lower back muscles result.
Did you know that for every few degrees your head and neck crane forward past your shoulders and tilt downwards?
That is pounds and pounds of extra weight placed on your back muscles from the pull of gravity.
When using your phone, hold it up to meet your eyes. Try to make phone calls or use voice to text features instead of staring down to type.
3. Bring relief with you.
Maybe your shiatsu massage pillow won’t fit in your carry-on, but disposable ice packs, portable hand warmers, and topical pain relief creams will.
Don’t get stuck on a long trip with only a bottle of NSAIDs to manage your back pain.
Other natural treatments will be easier on your body and potentially just as effective.
4. Avoid heavy lifting.
Carrying multiple suitcases and bags at once into your hotel may seem like the faster alternative, but heavy lifting and bad body mechanics can quickly have your muscles spasming.
Don’t forget these tips for managing luggage when traveling:
- Lift in stages, i.e. move your suitcase up to an airplane seat first, and then lift into an overhead bin.
- Distribute weight evenly on each side of the body. This even means switching your purse or crossbody bag back and forth from shoulder to shoulder throughout your travel day.
- When lifting heavy bags or items, bend your knees and lift with your leg muscles, not your back.
- Avoiding twisting or contorting when lifting and holding heavy loads; turn or pivot your feet instead.
- Use luggage carts as much as possible – in the airport, at the hotel, etc.
- Pack as light as possible. You don’t need three potential outfits for a nice dinner out. Choose one, and lighten the load you’ll have to tote around on your trip.
5. Make room for your feet.
Harness the power of flat planted feet and your legs to support a strong posture and spine alignment.
So often traveling is full of cramped, narrow spaces, like in the front seat of the car or on a plane.
When your feet lack room to lay flat on an even surface a few inches apart, you tend to practice worse posture like slouching, crossing legs, or tilting your hips to one side.
6. Stretch more.
You might feel silly dipping down into a hip flexor stretch at an empty gate in the airport. However, even a few flexibility exercises can make a big difference in preventing back pain when you travel.
Low back pain doesn’t always stem from an injury to the lower back specifically, but rather can come about as inflammation caused by stiff hamstrings and tense hip muscles.
Stretches like bending to touch your toes for 30 seconds, or taking a knee and pressing the hips forward while your hands rest on your upper thigh are a good place to start.
Back pain doesn’t need to be part of your travels. Follow the tips above and take good care of your body, to ensure you travel stress-free.