Back pain can be one of the most debilitating injuries that a person deals with in their lives. This is because back injures can happen quickly, persist for weeks (sometimes months) and affect your quality of life. One of the most common places to injure your muscles or bones is when you’re traveling- and not because you’re doing dangerous stuff either.
The seats in most planes, trains, cars or buses rarely provide the support you need for your lower back and neck. When these areas are strained you can suffer from pinched nerves, rotated disks, or other misalignment that can ruin your travel or vacation.
Luckily, it’s easy to give yourself enough support to avoid back pain and other types of body pain when you’re traveling, especially when you remember these eight helpful tips:
8: Lift your luggage slowly, in stages
More often than not, back strain occurs when you’re super-extending your range of motion. To avoid this motion, load luggage slowly and break up the process of putting your luggage away. Use the surrounding environment (like the tops of chairs) to support the weight of your luggage before lifting it (in a separate motion).
Some good tips to remember include:
- Bending at the knees rather than using your back to lift
- Don’t twist your lower back, pivot with your feet
- Carry heavy luggage close to your body
- Try and distribute the weight you’re carrying evenly on both sides of your body
- Switch shoulders when you’re using a shoulder bag
7: Always bring your own back support
In 2015, the TSA and other major airline marketplaces reported that aside from food, travel pillows were the most commonly purchased item at airports. If you don’t want to buy one, use your jacket, a sweater or a blanket rolled up behind your head or placed at the small of your back prevents strain on your neck or spine when you’re resting or sitting.
6: Protect your soles (and the rest of your feet)
People tend to forget that their feet play a role in their back health too. If your feet can’t be firmly placed against the floor where you’re sitting (because your seat is too high), you should find a footrest. If you dangle your feet, you’re stressing your lower back and damaging the meniscus of your knees. Even drivers should occasionally rest both feet on the floor on longer drives by using cruise control.
5: Pack your bags lighter
Heavy bags aggravate your knees, joints and muscles. In fact, every additional pound that you pack puts about 3 pounds of pressure on your knees. To avoid this unnecessary weight, use lighter styles of suitcases with wheels to roll it. You’ll probably still need to lift it up stairs and out of your vehicle, so avoid stuffing a huge suitcase full of everything. Opt for several smaller bags, or fine tune your packing methods by packing less.
4: Straighten up your back and improve your posture
Always make sure that your back is square against your seat, and that the headrest that you use supports the middle of your head. Your shoulders should be straight forward and raised to prevent you from hunching over. If you’re driving, keep at least one foot firmly planted to the floor. Adjust the seat and steering wheel to find the most comfortable position to reach the wheel.
3: Move more, avoiding putting pressure on just one point of the spine
As a chiropractor, we regularly compare the spine to a spring (it’s designed to move). Avoid sitting in one place for too long whenever possible because it compresses the sensitive disks that provide upright mobility. Try to move at least every 30 minutes to get more blood to your core muscles. You’ll feel more awake and help to prevent soft tissues in the lumbar region of the back from seizing up. Even getting 10 second of movement/stretching is better than sitting still or skipping a break, preventing blood clots from forming in the legs (which can be fatal).
2: Stretch, stretch, stretch (especially your legs and hips)
It’s not just your spine that needs to be stretched- so do your leg muscles, hamstrings and thighs. Some of the best stretches for these muscles when you’re on the go include:
- Standing hamstring stretches; touching your toes by bending at the waist with straight legs for 30-45 seconds.
- Sitting hamstring stretches; when sitting, raise one leg up in front of you with the heel of your other on the floor. Sit up straight and arch your back, without leaning your body forward. Do this 3 times for each leg for 30 seconds at a time.
- To flex your hips, try sitting sideways on a chair and leaning forward. Put one leg up behind you as far as you can, using one toe to anchor yourself to the floor. Sit up straight, with your leg extended behind you as far as you can. Repeat it the same exercise with the other leg.
1: Carry pain relief
Pain can flare up at any time with very little provocation. When you’re traveling, the best relief is often through hot and cold packs. There are disposable packs that you can heat up on the go and wrap around painful spots that last for several hours, as well as cold packs that can help alleviate swelling. Try carrying some Tylenol, Ibuprofen or Naproxen for back or joint pain but always follow the manufacturer’s instructions listed on the bottle.
Sometimes it can seem nearly impossible to find relief or avoiding injury, especially on long trips of vacations. Chiropractic care and Physiotherapy treatment can help you treat these trouble areas before you go on a long trip that puts you in pain; and being more aware of the things you can do can keep you feeling great when you’re on the road. Avoid lifting weight improperly, and protect your spine with better sitting and standing postures! Don’t wear your wallet in your back pocket (because it makes your tailbone off-center) and get on the road, you’re sure to find all the pain-free adventures you deserve.
Devin works with the Rosedale Wellness Centre. They’ve been around since 1989 and have since grown to be one of the top wellness centers in Toronto. They provide a variety of services such as chiropractic, osteopathy, rehabilitation, naturopathy, acupuncture, personal training and massage therapy in Toronto.