This chiropractor's guide will help to make your trip as easy as possible.
Back pain when traveling is just awful. And, it happens to so many people. Fortunately, there are several things that can be done to make the trip a little better.
I can't tell you how many people come to my chiropractic office with debilitating back pain just days before having to travel. It's usually a business trip they "absolutely can not miss" or a dream vacation they've been planning for years. In either case, after providing a good chiropractic treatment, here are many of the things I educate my patients on before their journey.
When traveling, sitting for an extended period of time can be challenging even for the healthiest of backs. More than standing and much more than lying down, static seated posture actually generates the most pressure on the spine out of any position. For individuals dealing with back problems, this excess pressure can lead to significant pain and ultimately an agonizing trip.
One of the best ways to minimize this problem is to be proactive in your travel planning and mid-trip activities. As a chiropractor, here are some of my top strategies for making the trip as smooth as possible.
Traveling with Back Pain: What to do pre-flight.
When booking your trip or doing online check in, try to select an aisle seat (preferably one that has extra leg room). You can also try to change your seat or upgrade at the airport.
Get to the airport early. This will allow you to move at a slower pace and not miss your flight.
72 hours before flying, call TSA Cares at 855-787-2227. TSA Cares is a helpline that provides travelers with disabilities, medical conditions and other special circumstances additional assistance during the security screening process.
Pack as light as possible and use luggage that has wheels. Once on the plane, ask for help in stowing your luggage.
Pack heat wraps, ice packs, topical analgesics, and any pain/anti-inflammatory medications recommended by your doctor. You can find more information on when to use heat or ice in my article, Back Pain: Should you use ice or heat for back pain?
Pack/use a TENS (Trans-cutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation) unit for pain control. You can find more information on TENS units in my article, TENS for Back Pain. *Check with your airline to make sure this is an approved device for your flight.
If you have connecting flights, let the airline know that you will require assistance in getting to the next gate and (if possible) select a departing flight that provides extra time between connections.
Call your destination/hotel and let them know about your back problem. They may be able to provide extra help in traveling from the airport, as well as taking care of you and providing additional amenities once you arrive.
Request a wheelchair at the airport.
Traveling with Back Pain: On the Plane
Sit with good posture. Both feet flat on the floor. Back and head resting against the seat. Don’t slouch and don’t look down at your phone or laptop the entire trip.
Use a lumbar support. Press your low back all the way against the seat. Then lean forward and place a small pillow or rolled up hand towel in the low of the back. Once the pillow/towel is situated as low as possible, lean back so your upper back rests against the back of the seat. This should create a gentle arch in the low back. If it is a long flight, alternate sitting with and without the lumbar support. If it causes or increases pain, do not use a lumbar support.
Use a neck pillow. This will help to keep the neck in proper alignment and support the head if you fall asleep. Keep in mind, the size of the neck pillow should be appropriately sized to the individual.
Use heat wraps.
Take short frequent walks moving your arms, legs and back. Get up at least once per hour.
Do neck stretches. For more information on this, please read my article, The Best Exercise for Your Neck.
Perform isometric exercises or contractions with your legs, hips, trunk, and arms. This can be done by focusing on a specific muscle, contracting that muscle without moving it for 5 seconds, and then resting for 10 seconds. Repeat this exercise 3 times and then do the same routine on the next muscle. If any of the exercises causes or increases pain, skip that particular muscle and move on to the next one.
Meditate/square breathing. To do square breathing, close your eyes and gently inhale through your nose for a count of four. Then hold your breath for a count of four, gently exhale through your mouth for a count of four and hold your breath again for a count of four. Repeat this process for a minimum of five minutes (There is no maximum time limit. You can do it for as long as you like).
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Wishing you good health.
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