Traveling with back pain
Traveling by flight is hard on your body when you are having an episode of back pain. Whether your symptoms are acute or chronic, there are some things that are within your control to prevent further agitation or flare ups that can make traveling a painful experience.
The water bottle trick! Purpose: to create a superior lumbar support that is affordable and portable. This is one of my favorite techniques I use every time I travel on a flight. Buy a medium size water bottle, like a 16 ouncer, and drink about half the bottle for the density to be effective. Next, cap the bottle tightly and place it on your lumbar region in a horizontal position (see picture 1). Adjust the height of the bottle so it causes you to emphasize the natural curve of your lumbar spine (picture 2). Lastly, adjust your seat belt to keep your hips from sliding forward on the seat. This technique helps you to avoid slouching while keeping your lumbar curve supported during prolonged sitting.
Avoid salty foods before flying. Purpose: to avoid fluid retention and swelling. Eating right is not always easy when traveling. Airport foods and airline snacks are typically very salty, causing your body to increase swelling and pain in many areas of the body, especially in the ankles, knees, and lower back regions.
Get out of your seat. Purpose: to maintain circulation and reduce swelling. Enough said.
Stretch frequently. Purpose: to avoid muscle spasm to key areas. When the glutes and hamstrings are tight, they can cascade symptoms into the hips and lower back. Prolonged sitting not only causes these muscles to tighten, but adaptively shorten over time. The easiest way to combine glute and hamstring stretches is to place your ankle over the opposite knee (crossing your legs) while seated, and lean FORWARD, not down. Breathe out and hold for about 5 seconds, maintain the position and repeat several times. (see picture 3).
Avoid over packing your carry-on or backpack. Purpose: to lighten the load you have to carry and avoid triggering back spasm. It’s not the weight of the luggage, but often the SIZE that makes for awkward lifting situation. If you can reduce both size and weight, you can potentially avoid triggering a back spasm. Smaller luggage tends to keep your center of gravity closer and safer to your body during a lift in and out of the vehicle or going up and down stairs.
Hot and cold pack preparations. Purpose: prepare for the worse case scenario. Carry extra vegetable bags or ziploc bags for ice packs if needed. Hot packs can be made by microwaving a damp bath towel from your hotel for about 90 seconds.
Try the above suggestions next time you travel this Spring season!
Dr. Adrian is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, Athletic Trainer, and a private practice Doctor of Chiropractic in South Pasadena since 2000.