Total Health

Top Tips To Avoid Pain While Travelling

February 18th, 2021 by
Category: Dr. Emily Ross Health & Wellbeing

Although exciting, the thought of travel for some can be daunting, especially if it usually results in back pain, neck pain and/or stiffness.

Whether it be a commute to work, a road trip or a long flight, there are things you can do to prevent back and neck pain. The reason a lot of us experience pain during or after travel is prolonged sitting in often an uncomfortable or less than ideal position. This places extra pressure on our muscles and joints and can lead to stiffness and aching joints.  

So, as many of us are heading back to work after restrictions and lockdowns, and the prospect of travel becomes more likely, preventing pain during and after travel is all the more important. Have a read of my top five tips to prevent pain during and after travel!

1. Four point posture check

A posture check is a good tool to use when travelling. If you are going to be sitting for long periods, it is important to ensure you are in a position that puts the least amount of pressure through your joints.

Next time you are sitting in your car, give this four point posture check a go!

  • Have both feet flat on the floor
  • Ensure the curve in your lower back is supported, you can use a rolled up towel or cushion
  • Check your ears are positioned over your shoulders (make sure you are not pushing your chin forward) and try to have your shoulders over your hips (make sure you aren’t rolling your shoulders forward or hunching in your upper back)
  • Allow your head to rest gently against a head rest, the head rest shouldn’t be pushing your head forward.

If you are experiencing any shooting pain or numbness into your legs or any sharp pain in your lower back while sitting, you should consult a Chiropractor or other health professional for assessment and treatment.

For more detailed tips about good driving posture, read our 5 tips to improve your driving posture post!

2. Keep it moving

One of the best ways to prevent back pain in any situation – especially during times of inactivity such as travel – is movement! For every 30 minutes to an hour that you spend sitting, you should try to move around for a few minutes.

This can be walking or even performing simple stretches such as hamstring, hip flexor and neck/upper trapezius.

Moving or stretching breaks the pattern of sitting still, allowing your body a break from the pressures of sitting and promotes improved circulation to help your muscles and joints function at their optimum.

If you are experiencing any circulation issues, or discomfort and stiffness that is not resolved after moving or stretching you should consult a Chiropractor or other health professional for assessment and treatment.  

3. Prepare and adjust

Sitting for long periods can be unavoidable while travelling. In such situations,  it is best to ensure the position you are sitting in is the least aggravating and puts the least amount of pressure on your joints and spine.

If you are driving, adjust the seat height to allow your knees and hips to be at a 90 degree angle. This angle prevents extra pull or pressure in your lower back and also puts less load through the muscles in your hips. You can also adjust your steering wheel to a height that allows you to remain sitting upright and prevents you from having to lean forward or slouch.

If you are on a plane or public transport (train/bus), adjust your seat as much as you can to allow for the above posture. If you are unable to make adjustments, you can utilise day to day items to provide extra support, such as: 

  • Using a neck pillow to help keep your neck in a neutral position
  • Placing a rolled up towel in the small of your back to support your lumbar curve
  • If you are shorter/your feet cannot touch the ground when seated, try using a step or your bag to allow your feet to stay flat and keep your hips and knees at 90 degrees.

If you experience lower back pain that is worse while sitting, or pain in your shoulders that doesn’t go away with stretching, you should consult a Chiropractor or other health professional for assessment and treatment.

4. Supportive sleep

If you are going to be staying somewhere overnight or you are planning a long haul flight, you should plan ahead and bring a few items from home to ensure you get the best possible sleep and wake up feeling as refreshed as possible.

A neck pillow is great to use for overnight flights. It is a C-shaped pillow that wraps around the neck, allowing the head to stay as close to neutral position as possible, rather than leaning off to the side and overstretching or shortening one side of the neck. Neck pillows are a great tool to have if you want some extra support in your neck.

Another idea, if you are staying the night away from home, is to bring your own pillow – preferably a supportive pillow. Sleep is so important, especially while we are on holidays or travelling, therefore it is essential to make sure our body has the chance to relax and repair overnight. For this reason, using a pillow that supports your neck is vital. If you are laying on your side, your head should be sitting neutral and supported by the pillow. You can also try to support your knees – if you are a back sleeper, place a pillow under your knees to reduce the pull and strain on your lower back. If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your knees to prevent any rolling or twisting through the hips.

If you experience pain that wakes you at night, or pain that is unresolved with rest, you should consult your health practitioner for assessment and treatment.

Keep it warm

Maybe you’ve read all of the above tips and you’re worried that you will still be in pain during or after travel. This tip is a bit of a preemptive tip!

I still suggest trying all of the above, but just in case you have a flare up of an existing back injury, it is a good idea to have a heat pack with you. If it is a new injury or the area is inflamed, try ice first. Once the inflammation has subsided you can use heat.

If you do have a flare up or injure yourself while you are away or travelling, it is best to seek advice sooner rather than later, and you can check in with your usual Chiropractor or health professional when you return home.

So next time you travel, give these tips a go to avoid pain and make the most our of your body! To quickly recap – check your posture and adjust your seat to allow for optimal positioning. Try and keep moving and stretch where you can. Prepare for optimal sleep by bringing along your own pillow or using a neck pillow on a plane.


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