Usually travel plans increase every August. But this year we’re seeing more than ever as last year travel virtually didn’t exist.
Traveling is so good for the mind and soul – but it’s not always fun for the neck and back. When travelers return from a long trip, there are usually frequent complaints of stiff neck and back, exacerbated sciatica, and just general pain.
The good news is that you can prevent or significantly minimize most of these symptoms with just a few simple tips. Whether by train, plane or car – here are some of my top tips for relieving neck and back pain while traveling.
Remember the 30 minute rule
The greatest burden on your body when traveling is without a doubt sitting for long periods – often in confined spaces. Our bodies are made to be in constant motion throughout the day. When traveling by car or on planes and trains, standing up is critical to keeping your neck and back healthy and flexible. Movement is lotion. And one of the best things you can do for your neck and back is to pause any prolonged posture – especially sitting – every 30 minutes. If you can’t really stand for a few seconds, try arching your back or stretching your arms above your head while sitting. Make a few bolsters and chin creases to stretch your spine. The more you move, the better your spine feels.
Use a lumbar spine
Our spine is made up of pronounced curves for a very good reason. They are designed to balance forces and withstand shocks – and it’s best if you can keep them up. When you sit, the curve of your lower back (lumbar spine) decreases or sometimes disappears entirely. While sitting like this for a short period of time is perfectly acceptable (remember the 30 minute rule), after several hours your spine won’t like it. Also, your neck responds by changing its curvature as well. Typically, your neck is in what is known as a “head forward” position when your lower and middle back are arched. One of the best things you can do is use a cylindrical lumbar spine to help maintain the natural curvature of your lumbar spine. Place it right against your lower back every time you sit and you will find that there is a lot less strain on your spine.
We all know staying hydrated is important, but why is it especially important to avoid back and neck pain while traveling? Well, water is the vehicle responsible for delivering nutrients to your cells, including the nutrients your muscle cells need to do their jobs. Dehydration causes muscle spasms because it deprives your body of electrolytes. Proper hydration increases strength, balance, and flexibility. Water also helps lubricate your joints, which is a bonus for keeping your spine working smoothly and supporting the movements of your entire body. So if you plan to hit the streets soon, bring a reusable water bottle and fill it up regularly. And the extra toilet breaks give you an excuse to keep moving.
No matter where you go or how you get there, travel involves packing, and packing too much can be a quick recipe for back pain. Anyone who has flown before knows that hauling multiple bags and / or suitcases across an airport is not only exhausting and stressful, but can also be sore and unbalanced for days. Even if you are traveling by car, you still have to load and unload your luggage and take it with you wherever you go. It’s best to pack light. If you bring a suitcase with wheels, pack heavier items in it so that you don’t put unnecessary strain on your neck and shoulders. Opt for a backpack instead of a shoulder bag to avoid uneven pressure distribution and store it with your water bottle, small travel essentials, and healthy snacks.
Prepare your body
The best way to prevent injury or pain (in general) is to stay as mobile as possible and maintain an active lifestyle. When you travel, you often walk more than usual and do more activities than you are used to at home. If you are planning an active trip, it is best to prepare your body beforehand. Something else to consider is your sleeping area. Different mattresses and lying surfaces can really cause problems for your neck and back. It’s a good idea to bring your favorite pillow and use extra blankets or clothing to provide extra cushioning or support where you need it. Whatever you can do to simulate what it is like to sleep at home will help minimize neck and back stiffness.
I hope at least one of these tips will help you have less back and neck pain on your next travel excursion. It’s much better to just enjoy where you are going instead of worrying about your back or neck.
Dr. Carrie Jose, physical therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To contact her or get a free copy of her guide to back pain and stiffness relief, email her at [email protected] or call 603-380-7902.