Post updated – December 15th, 2014
It’s the time of year when families are traveling together, couples are planning to get away, empty-nesters are working through bucket lists of places to visit. Hard earned time off, savings, reservations and frequent flier miles are being managed. It all can derail quickly if you end up with back pain and too uncomfortable to enjoy your trip.
How do you avoid back pain from sitting when traveling?
Any one of us who takes off regularly has a personal travel regimen and strategies. Discovering those can take time and a lot of trial and error. It helps to get pointers from experts and one I’ve enlisted is Chiropractor, Dr. Janis Prout.
She sees patients in pain daily. When they’re getting ready for a trip, she helps them prepare, but often they return home in worse shape! Back pain from sitting is just one of the issues she helps with.
Twelve tips to avoid back pain from sitting:
- Break time – Our bodies are not designed to be sedentary. Get up out of your airplane seat to walk and stretch at least once every hour. On the road stop the car and do some stretching. When traveling with family frequent breaks are really important. You may feel the push to keep going and get to your destination. Dr. Prout encourages her family to add an extra hour to travel time for breaks. “I make my dad or whoever it is, pull over and walk around.”
- Rolling luggage – Pulling is OK but switch hands and pull with the opposite hand when you think of it. When you don’t switch arms and constantly favor one side, one shoulder and hand is more likely to develop soreness.
Listen to the Gathering Road Podcast and the interview with Dr. Janis Prout or download the MP3 to listen later.
More tips to avoid back pain from sitting:
- Wallets – Guys, take your wallet out of your back pocket – Sitting on a wallet torks and twists, the side of body that you habitually hold your wallet in. Muscles pull to compensate and that can lead to pain.
- Gas pedal – Keep your right foot straight and the toes tilted up towards the sky. Avoid tilting your right foot to help your hip stay relaxed.
- Wedge – When sitting in a car or on an airplane for a long time have a little wedge under you. They can be ordered online and have a hole for the sacrum and coccyx, which takes pressure off the low back. The wedge is slightly larger in the back and smaller towards your knees, which helps with reducing low back fatigue.
- Wedge 2 – Roll up a towel (and put rubber-bands on the ends) as a wedge to help support your lower back.
- Wedge 3 – Use the rolled towel vertically when sitting as well. Lean into it, which helps the chest to open up a little bit and extends the back. Play with positioning it and see what feels good to you.
- Desk work – When working in your office (or in your hotel room) ergonomics are a huge issue. Have an office mate, or travel buddy, take your picture when you’re not paying attention and look to see if you can adjust how you sit for better balance and posture. Remind yourself that it’s healthiest to have 90 degree angles for your knees, hips and elbows.
- Tray table – When using your laptop or eReader on a plane: It’s best to bring your monitor closer to eye level. Put a book under the laptop to raise it, then use an external keyboard on your lap to help avoid carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Cell phone – Be mindful when using your cell phone don’t force your neck into ‘flexion’, odd twisted angles. When texting be careful about your neck angle as well and keep the phone raised.
- Leaning – When driving you may want to lean on the armrest or door. Habitual leaning is no friend to the spine. If you’re a leaner, put some double sided tape on the door handle so when you lean it’s a reminder to stop. Lean on the other side too for balance but it’s best not to lean at all.
- Crossed legs – When crossing your legs also, switch off and do it evenly. Crossing your legs can lead to lower back and hip pain.
We are designed to move.
Dr. Prout has a 98 yr. old patient who walks with a cane just for balance issues but doesn’t use a walker or wheel chair. The secret? She exercises every day of her life and believes that’s her key to longevity.
“Movement is life to a joint.” We have to keep moving through our days. Find out more about Janis’ work at: www.chiropracticinsantee.com. I hope these tips will help you avoid back pain from sitting.
Find other travel ease books and audio for flyers and drivers at: www.DrivetimeYoga.com
The number of times I sat up and lifted my head/neck (I was slouched over my laptop) whilst reading this… Excellent tips, but so true, we’re not made to be sedentary and since quitting the corporate job for blogging, I’ve found I’ve spend longer behind the laptop then ever before. Love it, but my back is crying out for a bit of TLC more then ever!
Ergonomics are especially important when we’re working on the road and have to adapt, slouch, lean… while online. I too have been spending far too much time sitting at my desk or on the laptop since blogging in earnest. We have to keep getting up or work standing at a counter top to keep from hurting ourselves.
I am fortunate that I am not currently having back pain, but when I did I used a memory foam seat cushion in the car to make me more comfortable. It helped a lot. I also stopped every few hours and walked around. I still have the cushion in my car’s trunk–just in case.
Good to hear that cushion helped and that you take breaks to walk around. The physical therapist I worked with highly recommended stopping to walk around every hour. I know it’s hard to do sometimes. Thanks for writing.
We are more aware of our health and body mechanics than ever since we started traveling and our experiences depend directly on how active we can be. A friend who’s a personal trainer worked with us to plan an exercise routine with stretches, flexibility and strength training (all that suitcase lifting!) to help us with the long flight and bus rides as well as lifting. We’ll incorporate some of your tips into our travels, too. Thanks for sharing.
You are trailblazers with getting the help of a pro for a travel exercise regime. When we’re in it for the long haul we realize how important it is to take care of our most important vehicle, our bodies. Thanks for sharing.
Great tips! I am not a big fan of long driving trips, so I fly a great deal. I also get up and move around a lot, those airplane seats are so uncomfortable. Thank you for taking the time to share these helpful ideas.
Long driving trips can be a pain, literally, so I understand. Good to hear you get up and move on airplanes. Unfortunately the seats are getting more and more cramped – at least on U.S. airlines.
Great tips. I can use several of these, traveling or at home.
I love hearing these will be of use! Thanks, Donna.
Some good points here! I believe fluid intake is also related to back pain; you need a certain amount of fluids to relieve your spine. Next I’d like to learn how to avoid back pain from too much standing – my main issue as one of my legs is shorter.
Staying hydrated is important whatever you’re doing and I’m sure is important for the spine. I’m sure you’ve considered shoe inserts to help equalize your legs and make standing easier?
I have always had a back that acts up now and again. It is great to have these tips as a reminder. Thanks
Keeping our backs limber and healthy is one of the most important things we can do. You’re ahead of the game as you know it already. I hope the tips do help.
Great tips – being stuck in the same position for long periods of time can get incredibly uncomfortable. I’ll be sure to put some of your tips into action.
I think sleeping on an airplane can be the worst for being in one position for a long time. Wake up slowly and warm up your muscles a little at a time. Any quick movements could lead to cramping. Been there and it’s not fun. Happy travels.
Very interesting, I’m sure with time I will need to return to this list.
Thanks, Milosz, I hope you find some of these useful.
great tips indeed. It’s only since I sprained my right ankle that I realized just how many muscles we use when driving. Thank goodness for cruise control! Good idea about having a wedge in the back. Thx!
Sorry to hear about the ankle and hope it’s healing quickly. I did the same and couldn’t do much for weeks but it’s healed well. We just have to keep working those old injuries and might heal stronger than before.
I really only ever have back pain during and after long flights. I will have to try some of these this February when I fly to South Africa. Thanks for the tips!
Flying to South Africa from just about anywhere is one of the longest flights you can encounter. Do try some of these and small, seated stretches too. Let me know how it goes.
Very good ideas, we try to follow most of them ourselves. Also, totally agree about keeping moving. There’s no substitute for that!
We grew from a long line of tree huggers and climbers, according to certain perspectives, who moved all day long. Hate to think where our sedentary lifestyles might be taking our species! Yes, keep moving!
Very handy tips! I always try to switch my legs when crossed but one hip is far less flexible than the other and it never lasts very long! Will keep these in mind, thanks for sharing.
We all deal with certain imbalances in flexibility. I think the point is to keep working it and remember to switch from time to time. Thanks for writing.
Wow, these are all excellent tips, thanks for sharing them.
Thanks, Noel. I’m planning some long trips in the coming months and needed the refresher myself. Happy travels.
Great tips! I would also suggest spinner luggage to take the weight off your back even more~
I just love spinner luggage and discovered you can push it easily as well as pull. Great idea. Thanks.
These are great tips! I find myself with the most back pain after sitting at the computer for too long. I’ll keep these tips in mind next time i’m sitting for a long time. I especially like the idea of rolling up a towel and placing it vertically between your shoulder blades to open up the chest!
Thanks, Kelsey. The physical therapist I worked with also recommends that. Try it laying on your back sometime too for a deep release.