Young adults in a car traveling

While going on holidays is meant to be exciting and hopefully relaxing, sometimes, just getting to your destination can be a tremendous strain. It may be a long drive in a car, bus, a plane flight or even a train trip which although often a lot of fun, is also hard on the body, especially if you already have back and/or neck problems.

Contrary to what many people believe, too much physical activity is not what usually causes your back pain, the main culprit is usually sitting for long periods, especially if you have poor posture or are sitting is an uncomfortable seat. Any form of transport you may take these holidays, will more than likely involve sitting in one place for a long time and this can cause back and neck problems. Fortunately, we are here to give you a few tips and tricks to assist you so you don’t spend your holiday in pain.

It’s always best to address any niggles before you leave for your trip, so one of the most important tips no matter what mode of transport your using is “Get Adjusted”! When planning your trip make sure you allow time to visit Dr Bailey before you set off, and hopefully if you follow the below tips, you will have a comfortable trip and a happy pain-free holiday.

Back Care on an Airplane

Flight attendant taking care of passengers on a planeFlying is one of the fastest and more comfortable ways to travel long distances but it can often be hard on your spine. It’s not just the flight itself, but first there’s the standing in the security line, shifting your weight back and forth as you plan your strategy for getting your shoes off and everything through the security scanner as quickly as possible. Not to mention the added degree of difficulty if you are traveling with children and you have to restrain or carry them in the line along with any carry-on luggage you require. Following all that hassle, there is the waiting at the gate in those very hard and uncomfortable chairs, and all this occurs before you have even boarded the plane!

Now I am sure the airlines really do try to make the seats comfortable, but let’s face it if you are stuck back in economy class, the seats don’t really recline very far, the headrest are in an odd spot and push your neck forward, and the seats aren’t known for their cushiness.

Now we can’t do much about the seats but the following tips should assist you in having as pain free a trip as possible.

  • Practice proper body mechanics when managing suitcases by lifting with the knees and not with the back.
  • Choose a suitcase with wheels and an ergonomic handle. Additionally, when packing try to distribute the weight evenly in the bag.
  • When carrying your bags try to balance the weight evenly on your body. If you have a heavy hand bag or shoulder bag, switch sides frequently to avoid putting stress on one side of your body.
  • Watch your posture! If your legs are not positioned at a right angle when you sit in your seat, ask for something (pillows, blankets) to prop up your feet and keep your knees at a right angle. Doing so keeps stress off the lower back. If you are tall, you may benefit from requesting an exit row seat, which generally has more legroom.
  • Walk the aisle every 30 mins or so, especially after sleeping. Getting an aisle seat will make this easier.
  • Put a lumbar support cushion, small pillow, rolled towel or any item that you can use to support your lower back’s natural curve.
  • Use a neck support pillow to take the weight off your head and neck.
  • Stretch regularly- this can involve simple exercises like rolling your ankles and alternately pointing and flexing your feet.
  • When traveling overseas, start adjusting your body’s rhythm in-flight by eating, drinking and sleeping according to the time zone of your destination.
  • Drink lots of water and avoid alcohol, coffee, or tea. Flying dehydrates your body because of the very low humidity levels in the pressurised cabin. Alcohol, tea, and coffee are diuretics which can cause dehydration. Water will re-hydrate the body and help to prevent circulatory problems.

Back Care in a Car

Taking care of your back during a long car ride is very different from doing so on a plane. You will more than likely be much more cramped in and you will have less room to move, and of course you won’t have the luxury of getting up and walking around every thirty minutes. Road travel is also bumpier than air travel and will more than likely aggravate your back and neck.

Following these tips should help you to arrive at your destination as pain free as possible:

  • Take the time to make sure you are sitting in a spine-friendly and comfortable position before you even set off. A small niggle at the beginning of a trip can turn into raging pain within hours. If your car seat provides little back support, place a lumbar cushion, rolled up a towel or small pillow between your lower back and the seat for some extra support.
  • Sit up straight with your knees slightly higher than your hips, and keep your chin pulled in.
  • Since staying still is bad for your back, don’t just pick a position and stay in it for hours. Instead, adjust your seat and change your position slightly every 15-20 minutes.
  • If you are the driver, reduce reaching for the steering wheel, because reaching places more stress on the lumbar spine, neck, shoulder and wrists. Instead, sit as close to the steering wheel as possible without compromising your safety.
  • Stretch regularly- Full-body stretching is not always easy when sitting in a car but there are many seated stretches you can do while sitting. Try the following stretches:
    • Shoulder shrugs
    • Rolling your shoulders backward then forward
    • Rolling your neck from left to right and then in small circles
    • Twisting your torso gently from right to left
    • Tilting your hips back and forth or sideways
    • Flexing and releasing muscles will also help to increase circulation while seated.
  • Take plenty of breaks. Try to stop at least every 1 or 2 hours, get out of the car and stretch your spine. Maybe even go for a little walk and get your blood flowing again.
  • While it’s hot in Australia in summer, it is really important to set up your cars air conditioning so you avoiding blasts of cold air on the neck. It’s better to have the air conditioner on a soft setting, not on full blast. Also, try to point the vents so they are not blowing directly on your face or neck. If you point them towards the ceiling or floor of the car and allow the entire cabin to cool you will avoid ending up with a stiff neck.
  • Drink lots of water! Hydration is essential for flushing your system of toxins and maintaining good circulation. Decreased circulation will quickly lead to increased pain and stiffness in your entire body, especially your back. While it may be tempting to rely on coffee, tea, sugar-filled energy drinks or soft drinks while traveling, instead choose water and lots of it.

Of course once you return its best to come in and see Dr Bailey so he can correct any issue your trip has caused and keep you pain free once you are home.

For further information, our Mobile App also provides a guide for good posture in the car, and is available for both iOS and Android Devices. Check it out if you haven’t already!

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