Traveling with a Bad Back, Part I: Airplane Travel

It’s summer, a time for travel for many in the United States. But for people who suffer from chronic back pain or even weakness, travel can pose a host of problems that can have them asking, “Is it worth it?” The answer, in most cases, is “Of course!” However, travelers with bad backs should take precautions whenever possible to reduce unnecessary pain and strain. Following are some of the worst culprits for back pain while traveling and how to deal with them.Traveling with a bad back is no fun so here are some tips on making it easier for you!

Airplane travel may be a quick way to get from one place to another, but it sure isn’t good for our bodies! The prolonged hours sitting in cramped seats create a sure-fire recipe for back pain. Minimize the pain by taking these measures:

  • Find a comfortable position. This may seem impossible, but with a combination of pillows, blankets, and your own carry-on bag, it can be done. Try placing your carry-on bag under your feet to bring your hips and knees into alignment, and put a small pillow or rolled-up blanket behind your lower back for lumbar support.
  • Get up at least once per hour (preferably once every 30 minutes). A lot of back pain can be avoided by moving around so that your muscles don’t seize up in one position. Standing up and walking around can also help prevent deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the lower leg).
  • Stretch whenever possible. Stretching can be tricky on a plane, but back pain is universal enough that most flight attendants (and passengers) are familiar with the sight of someone doing standing exercises to relieve back pain. Two easy ones are toe touches and hip flexor stretches. Toe touches are just what they sound like; with your knees slightly bent, bend forward at the waist slowly, reaching your hands toward the ground. You should feel the stretch in your lower back and your hamstrings (the backs of your thighs). For hip flexors, kneel on your right knee with your left foot on the floor in front of you, creating a 90 degree angle with the left knee. Push your pelvis forward until you feel the stretch in your hip flexor (right in front of your hip bone). If you don’t want to kneel, you can try a runner’s stretch (the same stretch, but not kneeling) in the aisle while holding on to the back of your seat.
  • Drink water. Dehydration, which is common on long flights, can increase the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, increasing back pain. Drink as much water as possible, and avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these actually increase the risk of dehydration.