With any back pain, a key piece of advice is often to avoid being in the same position for a prolonged period of time. Obviously when travelling, especially long distances, this can be difficult to avoid.
We’ve gathered plenty of tips, whether commuting to work or sitting on board a long flight. Keep reading to find the best ways to make your journey as comfortable as possible.
Set your position before you leave. Especially if you share a car, adjust the seat height, lumbar support, headrest and steering wheel to your comfort. If you have a clip or ponytail in your hair, remove this as it will affect your head position.
A relaxed driving position reduces stress on the spine, allowing your seat to take your weight.
Use folded or rolled-up towels to support the back, or under the back of the thigh to reduce the build-up of any leg pain or sciatica.
Take regular breaks
The BCA advises that you should stop and stretch your legs (and arms!) at least every two hours, more often if possible. You should certainly stop more frequently if you are feeling any discomfort.
Clench your cheeks
If you are stuck in traffic, exercise in your seat. Try buttock clenches, side bends, and shoulder shrugs and circles.
Plan your journey
Allow plenty of time for journeys to avoid stress, check for any traffic hot spots before you leave, and decide where you will stop for your breaks in advance.
If using public transport, standing for your commute (if you are comfortable doing so) may be a great way to start and end the day.
We often spend most of our day sitting down, and postural variety can help avoid pressure building up in the spine, and pressure on nerves that can lead to arm or leg pain.
Wear comfortable shoes and loose clothing. Definitely take a flat pair of shoes if you spend the day in heels. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold onto a rail comfortably, don’t overstretch. Alternatively, if you are more comfortable sitting then this is the way to go.
Relax into your seat
Sit back with your back against the backrest and keep your feet flat on the floor. Be aware of your bag or luggage that may prevent you from sitting straight in the seat.
As already mentioned, you can also exercise in your seat. You may be able to do things like bring the knees to the chest, circle the feet/ankles and move the head side to side more easily if you are not in the driving seat!
Choose practicality – Opt for a practical bag, not a fashionable one
Choosing a bag with one handle will load the weight onto one side of the body. Ideally use a rucksack, carry it on both shoulders and adjust the straps so that the bag is held close to your back.
If using a single-strap bag, buy one with a longer strap, so you can wear it close to you with the strap over one shoulder and the briefcase under the other arm but keep your shoulders relaxed.
If using a wheeled case, push it in front of you rather than pulling it behind you as this will stop you from twisting your back.
Check the contents of your bag each day and only carry those items you need for the day ahead – it is surprising how many people carry unnecessary weight in their bags.
If you feel you have tried everything and are still in a lot of pain, it may be best to think about working from home part of the time.
Avoid alcohol before and during the flight as this will cause you to dehydrate and, in turn, exaggerate muscle pain. Drink plenty of water instead.
You will be restricted to your seat for most of the flight, but avoid stiffness by doing head turns, shoulder shrugs, buttock clenches, knees to chest, trunk rotations and foot circles.
Take the opportunity to get up and stretch your legs whenever you can.
Move around the airport
Walk around plenty before you board, and get your joints moving quickly after the flight. Walk to arrivals rather than the easy option of a moving walkway, and use stairs instead of lifts.
Use both hands, brace with your knees slightly bent and pull in through the tummy muscles.
Push, don’t pull! – Many wheeled cases encourage you to pull the case handle from behind, but this makes the upper body/back twist. If possible, push the case in front of you or use a trolley.
At Your Destination
When you get to your hotel, if your bed is too hard, ask the hotel staff for a spare duvet or blanket to put between you and the mattress. Firm beds are not always best, but it is easier to soften a hard bed than make a soft bed harder.
If you’re heading to the sun loungers in search of the perfect tan, try not to lie on your tummy with your back and neck arched back when reading your book or magazine.
Instead, place your book on the floor, so that you can view it over the edge of the sun bed; this should allow you to keep your head and neck in a more neutral position.
If keeping in shape is on your holiday agenda, ensure you have a full induction to the hotel gym equipment. It may be different to what you are used to using at home. And don’t forget to warm up!
Even more tips
- Board at end of the line to avoid sitting in your seat for longer than you need to
- Warming or cooling gels can be used to distract us from our body sending pain signals and may give short-term relief
- Lift share if you are more comfortable in the passenger seat
- Leave the tight clothes at home – they will restrict your movement
- Muscles and joints are designed for movement so, where possible, walk as it will help improve muscle tone, improve circulation and posture