Any frequent traveler will say that long drives, flights, and train rides can wreak havoc on the body. In particular, sore backs are a common consequence of a stationary position held for an extended period of time.
When your spine remains static, it places pressure on your intervertebral discs and creates general discomfort in your muscles and joints. While this problem becomes worse for older travelers or those with back pain, it can make travel comfort elusive for practically anyone. Since sore backs result from the static postures that long trips require, many people simply accept discomfort as a consequence of travel.
However, solutions to this problem do exist. Through preparation and coping strategies, a traveler can successfully ward off the discomfort of several hours in a small, uncomfortable seat.
A combination of foresight, luggage and packing awareness, proper positioning, and simple exercises can take the pain out of travel, and help you avoid the annoyance of a sore back.
Prepare Ahead of Time
Before you depart, you can set yourself up for travel comfort with a few simple strategies. First and foremost, make sure that you keep a regular workout routine. This becomes especially important in the week before your trip, as inactivity will leave your back muscles prone to spasms if you sit for a long period of time. If you stay consistent with your regular stretching and exercise regimen, your back muscles will remain limber, and you’ll spare yourself from discomfort.
If you anticipate discomfort throughout a drive or flight, take medication proactively. Tylenol or ibuprofen are easily available over-the-counter solutions to prevent the minor aches and pain associated with travel. For individuals flying with preexisting back conditions, a doctor’s note is an invaluable resource. Many airlines will accommodate passengers with medical conditions through assignment to more comfortable seating. Also, make sure to stay hydrated for several days before your trip. Airline cabins are dry environments, and dehydration will exacerbate stiffness and back issues.
Luggage Tips to Avoid a Sore Back
Other strategies to reduce travel discomfort center on your luggage. Carry-ons, in particular, can lead directly to back issues. Do your best to pack lightly, as lugging a heavy bag through the airpot puts strain on your body. Additionally, the movement required to lift and twist a hefty bag into an overhead bin can seriously harm your back. If you cannot lighten your bag, you may request that a flight attendant stows it for you. To safely stow luggage yourself, first place it on the top of a seat, then lift it into the bin.
A savvy traveler who wants to avoid a sore back can also minimize their interaction with luggage. Strategies you can pursue include:
- Curbside Check-In: For air travelers, curbside check-in provides an opportunity to hand off your luggage before you enter the airport.
- Mobility Assistance: If you have back problems or other types of physical impairment, you can request a motorized cart to avoid long walks with your luggage.
- Ship Ahead: If you want to completely avoid the hassle of luggage, you can simply ship what you need to your destination ahead of time.
Proper Seating for Travel Comfort
Sitting puts a great deal of stress on the discs in your back. If you know how to properly arrange yourself in your seat, however, you can spare yourself the worst of this strain. For example, your lumbar region needs proper support. To achieve, simply place a pillow between the seat and your lower back. This not only prevents slouching but also helps avert spasms through the natural support of your lumbar curve.
You also need to support your neck. A pillow comprised of small beads or foam will contour naturally to the shape of your neck and prevent pain and headaches. The BR2 Travel Pillow is an excellent way to achieve this comfort. Designed in collaboration with medical-device engineers, this pillow stows easily and makes for an indispensable travel accessory. You also don’t want to neglect your feet, as they need to rest flat on the floor to properly support your back. Make sure to keep your hips and knees bent at 90-degree angles, and if your feet do not reach the floor, use your bag as a footrest.
Your body is meant to move, and if you can keep your spine mobile, you will prevent soreness and other pain. At least once an hour, make an effort to leave your seat and walk down the aisle. If driving, pull over every hour or two to stretch your legs and walk around. Stretching your hamstrings will also lead to improved comfort. To do this, brace one foot against a seat or other stationary object, and lean forward until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold this posture for a minute or so, and you can count on a reduction of the tension that leads to lower back pain.
If you find yourself waiting for departure, you can do isometric exercises while in the station or lounge area. Simply lean back against a wall, then sink down until your knees bend at a 90-degree angle. Hold this posture for one minute to reduce stiffness and encourage the flow of blood to your back muscles, discs, and joints. You can alternately accomplish this while seated through the contraction of your abdomen. While sitting with a straight back, tense your abdomen muscles for 30 seconds, then release.
Between active movement, simple exercises, and some preparation ahead of time, you can easily avoid the discomfort and pain associated with long trips. Not only will the trip itself become more pleasant, but you’ll arrive at your destination in a better state of mind. Long-distance travel will always come with some degree of stress. If you take care of your body, however, you can free yourself from the burden of a sore back, improve your travel comfort, and have a more enjoyable experience overall.