Summer is coming soon, and for most Edmonton households, that means travel is on the horizon. While this is normally an exciting prospect, those who experience back pain while travelling by plane, train, or automobile is often less enthused. Before you head for Edmonton International Airport (YEG), merge onto the Yellowhead Highway, or book a ticket to board the VIA Rail, be sure to follow these tips for how to avoid back pain while travelling.

6 Ways to Prevent and Alleviate Back Pain Before and During Your Travels

1. Back-Friendly Best Practices for Airport Baggage Handling

Luggage, baggage, and carry-ons are major aggravators of back pain. By investing in the right gear, packing wisely, and being more mindful when carrying it all from points A to B, C, D, and so forth, you will make great strides in your mission to travel free from back pain. Please heed the following:

    • Invest in high-quality, lightweight luggage with wheels and adjustable handles that allow you to push/pull without crouching. Test it out in the store before buying.
    • If you prefer a  backpack as your carry-on, ensure that it has adjustable, padded shoulder straps and a waist strap that will evenly distribute weight.
    • If you use a duffle/shoulder bag as a carry-on, be sure to alternate sides so that you evenly distribute the weight during your travels.
    • Carry-on luggage should not weigh more than 10 to 15 percent of your body weight.
    • Pack light and only bring what you need and can’t buy (at a reasonable price) at your destination. A bottle of shampoo could be the straw to break the camel’s back (or in this case, your back).
    • Check-in as much of your luggage as possible.  Lifting up and pulling down heavy carry-on bags on a crowded plane will force you to heave, twist, turn, and move in a variety of unnatural ways which can aggravate back pain. The extra $50 for additional check-in is worth it if it will save you from significant pain.
    • Be mindful when lifting your luggage, no matter how rushed you may be at the airport baggage claim. Get close to your bags and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. From there, bend at the knees, grasp, and lift with your leg muscles (vs your back). Hold the luggage close to your body, turn your feet in the direction that you intend to head in, and then turn your entire body in that direction.
    • Let helpful airport shuttle drivers and hotel staff assist with luggage when they offer. A $2 tip is a small price to pay for a pain-free vacation.

2. Pack Back Supporting Travel Gear

A small yet worthwhile investment is back support for flights and road trips alike. This may include a lumbar support pillow and/or an orthopedic wedge cushion. In addition, bring a travel-sized foam roller that you can use before, during, and after flights and long drives.

3. Move and Stretch During Flights and Drives

Sitting stationary on a plane or in a vehicle for extended periods of time can significantly aggravate back pain. It can cause stiffness and tension in the muscles in the back of your hamstrings and hip flexor muscles, which then focuses pressure on your lower back. 

Mitigate the potential for this stiffness and tension by moving and stretching as often as you can during flights and drives. Get up from your seat or pull over to perform a standing hamstring stretch. If you’re shy and don’t want to draw attention from other passengers and flight attendants you can perform simply controlled torso twists and shoulder stretches (for upper back relief) while retrieving something from the overhead compartment. You can also perform movements and stretches in the airplane lavatory. 

4. Hydrate

Speaking of the restroom, consume more water during travels because dehydration can increase the likelihood of back pain. Drink up and take advantage of those above-mentioned walks to the plane’s bathroom for movements and stretches. 

5. Be Mindful About Feeling Travel-Related Stress

While vacations are supposed to reduce stress, the days and hours leading up to your arrival can inflate stress and anxiety. Long lines are the airport is one thing, but if you must also deal with restless travel companions (I.e. your kids) and cranky security/customs agents, you’re emotional and behavioural health will pay the toll. Since studies prove that stress can have a psychosomatic impact on back pain, consenting to stress system activation can activate physical pain.

Make an effort to ease stress and anxiety leading into and during travel. Be mindful and conscious of your feelings and overall mental state, and don’t let the “little things” get to you. 

Being well-organized can help. For instance, pack for your trip a week in advance and arrive at the airport (or cruise terminal, etc.) one or two hours earlier than suggested. When you’re in a rush, you stress, and your back will feel it. Give yourself a wide time window, and you’ll find how quickly travel day anxiety (and back pain) can be alleviated.

6. Book a Chiropractic Visit Before You Go

Many people get a check-up from their family physician before a big trip but neglect to consult with one of the most important pre-travel companions – a chiropractor. 

Why would anyone (with or without chronic back pain) want to sit for hours in a confined space without doing so? By consulting with a chiropractor before your trip, you will be able to identify the cause/s of your back pain and take corrective action before leaving. Even just one or two chiropractic sessions can make a world of difference. A chiropractor will assess and correct your seated posture and other alignment issues and may also prescribe a regime of exercises and movements that can be done in your hotel room, on the beach, or between holes on the golf course, for that matter. This way, back pain relief and healing will continue throughout the trip, making each day better than the one before.

Moreover, a chiropractor may uncover the fact that back pain may be caused by other conditions. It’s entirely possible that these conditions can quickly be corrected before embarking on your travels. For example, did you know that your gait (manner of walking) may contribute to back pain? If this is the case, a chiropractic assessment can point you toward custom orthotics. Orthotics will make your travel adventures more comfortable, enjoyable, and pain-free. 

If you reside in the Greater Edmonton area and have a trip coming soon, schedule a consultation at our chiropractic clinic today.