Preventing Pain and Injury While Traveling for Long Hours

These simple travel modifications can go a long way for those of you going on long trips. Whether you’re spending long hours sitting in a plane, car, or train, chiropractor, Dr. Mike Distler, DC, shares some useful tips to prevent pain and injury.

As summer approaches and travel frequency increases, it’s important to recognize the impact that a multi-hour flight, train ride, or car trip can have on the spine—especially for patients with pre-existing injuries or conditions.

Each travel method poses different challenges for the spine, but a patient’s main objective should be to systematically change the load on the spine through movement. The movement might simply be standing up and walking around or, more specifically, performing a set of exercises as prescribed by your chiropractor or physical therapist.

The biggest challenge imposed by most travel methods is limited space, which restricts your ability to change positions, allow fatigued postural muscles to recover, and decrease load on the spine.

As a general rule, you should stand up and walk around every 30 minutes for at least 2 minutes, but it can be difficult due to the physical restrictions of travel.

For flights, trains, and buses, select an aisle seat or purchase a seat with extra leg room – it’s an investment in your well-being.

If driving, plan for additional stops along your route. It may take longer to reach your destination, but it can help you avoid being in pain upon arrival.

Also, external support systems such as back braces, cervical travel pillows, or lumbar rolls are helpful short-term solutions for providing additional spinal support, especially when travel circumstances do not allow for frequent movement (e.g., middle or window seat, flight turbulence, crowded bus or train, traffic).

As postural muscles fatigue due to prolonged sitting, external support systems help prevent irritation to the passive structures of the spine such as the intervertebral discs and spinal ligaments. In order to maximize the effectiveness of your back brace, apply the brace in a standing position while looking straight ahead (use a mirror for reference) to maintain lumbopelvic neutral and avoid bracing the spine in flexion.

In regard to cervical travel pillows and lumbar rolls, they must be large enough to support the natural lordotic curve of the neck or low back, but not so large that the roll pushes the entire body away from the seat (i.e., the back of head and the mid-back should still be contacting the seat).

Cervical travel pillows should also have large enough lateral cushioning to prevent excessive lateral flexion and support the neck when sleeping. Although helpful in the short-term, external support systems should always be used as an adjunct to strengthening exercises, not as a replacement.

If you continue to experience pain after implementing the previously described modifications, the region should be examined by a practitioner to determine the necessity for treatment or medical intervention.

About to go a long trip? Don’t let pain ruin your vacation.

Schedule your evaluation with one of our chiropractors to prevent future pain and injury.