How To Prevent Traveling Back Pain

How to Avoid Traveling Back Pain When Flying

Unfortunately due to the cramped positioning and nature of economy travel, back pain can be common, frustrating and even lead to ruining your trip. My number 1 tip for preventing traveling back pain would be to fly first or business class, but of course most of us don’t quite have the pockets deep enough for that! But luckily there are some simple things you can do that can decrease your chance of getting back pain while travelling.

Posture and Pillows

Whether you are in a plane, car or train you are often seated for a long while so getting your posture right is important. Your feet should be firmly supported on the floor with your hips and knees at right angles. If this is not naturally the case (and your chair is too high) then you should pop your feet on a footrest or prop them with a pillow or blanket. Aim to keep your shoulders straight and avoid hunching forward.

A good way to avoid hunching (which over time may lead to back pain) is to use a pillow support behind your lower or middle back. If you don’t have one handy, a jacket or blanket rolled up can be used in a similar fashion.

Change position

The spine likes movement, so sitting in the same position for prolonged periods puts strain on your spine and surrounding muscles (especially if you ignore the above posture advice), therefore it is important to move around when you can.

While most health professionals will advise getting up and walking around every 20-30mins, quite often this is not practical on a long trip. A simple method that can help is to change your recline level position every so often. Even a change of 1-2cm will alter the tension on your back muscles, so give this a go in particular when you feel you are stiffening up.

Luggage smarts

Although your suitcase may have wheels, often you may find yourself in a situation where you can’t roll it and need to lift it, so breaking your gear into several smaller bags is better than having one large heavy bag. If using a pack, making sure you use the straps around your hips to help distribute the weight when carrying it.

Anytime you lift something, keep it close to your body and where possible try and break down the lift into a couple of smaller lifts. For example when lifting a bag into an overhead locker, first lift it onto the top of the seat, then readjust your position before lifting it into the locker. Try to avoid twisting when you lift, pivot your feet to turn instead and remember to bend your knees to use your leg muscles rather than just your back muscles.

Simple stretches

When you are sitting, your hamstrings and hip flexor muscles are in a shortened position, so when sitting for a long period they become tight. This can cause them to pull on your low back, so stretching these when you can is important to decrease your chance of low back pain when traveling.

A good stretch for hamstrings is laying with your legs up against the wall while pointing your toes toward your face, like the image below. This will also help with your circulation and you can do this in the airport or hotel etc. To stretch your hip flexors, put your foot on a chair and lunge forward. If you work at an office and sit a lot already, try and do these stretches in the days/weeks leading up to your travel as a preventative.

Hamstring stretch | Hip flexor stretch

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Phebe Liston

Phebe Liston is an Australian physiotherapist from the adventure hub of Bright (Victoria). Following her love of alpine and action sports, Phebe works with Olympic athletes in mountain bike and cross-country skiing and is highly sought after to provide physiotherapy services to international teams and events. Phebe is the co-founder of the women’s specific therapeutic brand Articfit, the face of LP Support Australia/NZ and is an ambassador for G-Form, 2nd Skull & Mt Hotham. Through the development of her chatbot and rehab guides, she hopes to help many more people be active with confidence.


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