Professional advice to avoid back and neck pain while traveling

If your work requires you to frequently travel, you may be concerned about how to handle your stiff or sore back on the road. And if you’re like many travelers, you may be dreading the ride, sleeping in a strange bed and getting out of your usual exercise routine.

To avoid discomfort on your trip, you can take several precautions to avoid the unwelcome travel companion of a painful back. Here are a few examples of simple things you can do to avoid back and neck pain while traveling:

  1. When traveling in a plane, car or train for long periods of time, place a rolled towel or small pillow in the curve of your lower back. This will help you maintain better posture, which is critical to maintaining normal curves in your back.
  2. While we often hear parents reminding children to “hold your head up,” pull your shoulders back,” and “don’t slump,” it’s important for older citizens to also take the advice to heart. As we become older, poor posture is often a source of pain. But if we maintain good posture, we can benefit from keeping the normal curves of the spine in the cervical (neck), thoracic (mid-back), and lumbar (low-back) regions of the body. Lifelong slouching can lead to slumping postures later in life, often characterized by an upper back hump.
  3. When sleeping in an unusual place such as a hotel or cramped guest room, smart travelers can take simple steps to offset their back pain. For example, politely ask for some extra pillows at the front desk to make your rest more comfortable. If you need to substitute for an extra pillow, try a rolled up blanket or towel to cushion your body in the bed. When resting on your side, place a pillow between your legs and a small rolled towel at your neck. If you sleep on your back, place a small pillow beneath your knees. And remember, try to avoid sleeping on your belly but, if you have to, we advise NOT using a pillow under your head as this tends to cause too much compression in the low back.
  4. The best remedy to avoid long term back pain is to stay active. People with a low level of activity, often suffer from backaches as a result of staying in slouch positions for a long period of time. When slouching, your upper back is rolled forward and the muscles in the front of your neck, chest and shoulders relax and become tight in a shortened position. This leads to stretching and weakening of the muscles across the back of the neck and shoulders. If you remain inactive, this problem escalates, leaving you more susceptible to strains or sprains as the muscle becomes progressively weaker. So even though you’re traveling, don’t forget your exercise routine. A physical fitness program including safe back exercises is one of your best defenses against back pain. The program should include exercises that focus on flexibility, strengthening and endurance. For example, modified sit-ups and low back stretches offer good alternatives as well as water exercises like swimming or aqua aerobics. Remember, with an exercise routine already started, you don’t want to take a step back while traveling.
  5. If your back becomes aggravated on the trip, over-the-counter medication may provide temporary relief from the pain. Keep your knees elevated if lying down is uncomfortable. Light massages, warm baths, or ice may also provide short-term relief. Resting your back is important, but practicing good posture and exercising can contribute to a healthy and pain free back.

Should you experience back pain while traveling, a functional restoration rehabilitation protocol is the only scientifically proven method to effectively treat the condition. In addition, the preventative exercise prescription needs to be specific and taught by a therapist trained in functional restoration principles. Alternative methods have been clearly shown to be ineffective for the long term, resulting in a recurrence of symptoms and an overall waste of your valuable time.

Avoid Back Pain

This brief interview gives some tips to protect your back when you are traveling.

What have you done to avoid back and neck pain while traveling? Leave a comment below and share some of your experiences with another weary traveler.

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