Traveling is unkind to the back, whether it by air or road. Getting to the destination generally involves way too much sitting, usually in uncomfortable positions. Staying in hotels or the equivalents require sleeping in beds not designed specifically for you. The whole affair removes us from our routine, which is what makes it an adventure, but also creates challenges to someone who has created a home environment particularly crafted around their aching back.
Still, no one wants to stop traveling just because they have chronic back issues. Instead, with a little planning and a few precautions, even someone with back issues can enjoy their travels.
Here are 11 tips from a chiropractor for safe and enjoyable travel.
- Pack sensibly – The less you have to carry, the better off you are, so think about everything you’re taking with you. If it’s not absolutely necessary, perhaps someone with chronic back pain should leave it home.
- But bring back supports – whether you’re flying, driving or traveling by train or bus, bring support you’ll need to sit comfortably. That might include a neck pillow, lumbar support and even a heating pad or hot compress. If you’re bringing a blanket anyway, increase your packing efficiency by rolling it up to serve as the lumbar or neck support. An inflatable pillow can do the same. Make sure you’ve packed some pain reliever just in case.
- And comfortable footwear – Even if you are traveling for business, leave the heels and dress shoes in your carry-on and wear sensible shoes while traveling and walking. And while we’re discussing the feet, make sure they are placed on a firm surface while traveling – the floor or a foot rest while flying, left foot firmly on the car floor while driving.
- Think about your flights in advance – Some people like to fly non-stop to spend as little time flying as possible. Others need to break up the long bouts of sitting. Know yourself and your situation and plan your flights around that. Either way, try to book aisle seats or emergency exit seats so you have a little more room to stretch while sitting.
- Share the driving – if you’re traveling by car with others, alternate drivers so you’re not in the same driving position the entire way. Sitting with one foot stretched out to the accelerator turns the hips and can increase misalignment of the spine.
- Move around as much as possible – While on the plane, to the extent possible, get up and stretch your back, arms and legs. If you have time between connecting flights, try to sit as little as possible. (There will be enough of that on the flight.) Explore the airport instead. If traveling by car, take frequent breaks and do the same stretches. If the train or bus you’re on stops at stations for any period of time, exit and walk around the station. The more standing and moving you can do, the better. That goes for your destination as well. Even if you’re headed to a work event, take every opportunity to get up and move around.
- Take advantage of the pool – if you’re at a hotel with a pool, use it. Water is great therapy for bad backs.
- Hydrate! Water inside our bodies is important for a healthy back too. It keeps our spinal structures limber.
- Find a good bed – Sleeping on a mattress that is too hard or soft can ruin your back for the entire trip. Check with the hotel in advance to determine if they have firm beds. You might want to determine also if they have bellhop services or at least elevators so you don’t have to lug your bags around the hotel and up the stairs.
- Empty your back pockets – remove your phone and your wallet from your back pocket when you sit. Leaving them there displaces your hips and causes spinal misalignment.
- Think about your posture – This is good advice for everyone, all the time, not just for travelers with bad backs. But you’re going to put your back in some uncomfortable positions in the best of situations, so make sure you’re treating it well the rest of the time.
Traveling is a stressor for your back, so following these 11 tips won’t improve your condition. They will just prevent it from getting worse while the rest of you enjoys some time away. Bon voyage!