Long Distance Travel & Your Back: How to prevent back pain

Everyone loves to travel, whether it be by airplane, train, or car, but what can we do to prevent back back injuries during these sometimes long and uncomfortable trips? We all get excited about these trips, but some of us dread the travel, particularly if we have pre-existing neck or back conditions.

I recently returned from a trip to Beijing, which required 16 hours on a plane each way! It was a long trip, but I was able to do it comfortably and safely by following some of the tips for travel below.

Dr. Michael Musacchio, Jr. at the Beijing Neurosurgical Institute

Whether you are in first class or couch, drive in a conversion van or a Prius, long trips can be killers on the back and spine. Most seats are not built with the proper support needed, and sitting for long periods of time can lead to back aches and even spine injuries. There are a few steps one can take, however, to help ease the pain of long-distance travel.

  • Choose your seat wisely: If business or first class is an option, take it.  The more leg room and seat room goes a long way to maximize your comfort.  If in coach, look for seats that offer the most room, such as the exit row or the bulkhead. Aisle seats offer more leg room as well as easier access to getting up and down.
  • Make sure you have proper lumbar support: Some cars and airlines have seats that offer adjustable lumbar support and this is very important to maintaining good alignment and preventing slouch which can lead to back injury or soreness. Consider bringing a lumbar roll or small pillow to place behind your back which can accomplish the same goal.
  • See your doctor before a long trip: If you suffer from back problems, your spine specialists can help get you through a long trip. Anti-inflammatory medications and other therapies may be available to help you make it through these trips as well as advice on proper stretching and postural support.
  • Get up and stretch: Make sure you can get up and stretch your back and legs at least once every couple of hours. Walking up and down the aisle, or stopping the car to get out and do some back exercises will go a long way.

Some back stretching exercises that can be easily done on a plane:

  • Extend your arms straight up, arch your back and look to the sky. You want to feel yourself getting long.
  • Bend at the waist and touch your toes, or get as close as you can.
  • Clasp your hands together and push them straight out in front of you to stretch your upper back.
  • Slowly twist side-to-side holding on each turn for a few seconds.
  • Bend your arms and pull them back trying to touch your elbows behind your back.

Enjoy your travels, but make sure you prepare for the ride over so you don’t ruin your trip!

Written by Dr. Michael Musacchio, Jr.

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To learn more about Center for Spine Care, visit our website!

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