Summer travel can be so much fun! Trips to the beach, amusement park rides, camping, and much more. However, all of the travel by car, bus, plane or train, lifting luggage, sleeping on different beds and pillows, and plain old over exertion, can really wreak havoc on your neck and back health and can potentially spoil a vacation. Here are a few tips to avoid injury and prevent pain so you can truly rest, relax and enjoy your time away.
One of the biggest contributors to back pain, soreness, stiffness, and injury during or following a vacation is the bed you sleep on when traveling. Your best bet to avoid this situation is to re-create the system that works for you at home.
Don’t be afraid to question the quality of the beds in your hotel room and make special requests if necessary (some hotels will even insert a board under the mattress to provide more support). If you sleep with a pillow between your knees at home, make sure there are enough pillows or even bring your own pillow. Ask if your hotel offers pillows of different firmness levels. Some hotels stock firmer ones in guest room closets or have a secret stash at the front desk.
Try to avoid lounging around in the bed when not sleeping as this can add additional stress to the spine. If you’re watching TV in your room, opt for a chair instead and prop your feet up. Additionally, take advantage of your hotel’s amenities such as a hot tub or steam room to help alleviate or prevent neck and back pain. A massage is always a good option to help relax stiff and sore muscles.
Move as Much as Possible
Another key to preventing pain and injury is movement. “Prolonged sitting can wreak havoc on your body,” says Dr. Scott Bautch, a member of the American Chiropractic Association’s (ACA) Council on Occupational Health. “Even if you travel in the most comfortable car or fly first class, certain pressures and forces from awkward positions can result in restricted blood flow.” This stiffens the back muscles and puts stress on the spine.
“The long, still stretches of time during travel is actually more dangerous than a sedentary lifestyle” adds Dr. Loomis. “If you remain in one position for a long time, certain movements after the fact can be immediately damaging – such as lifting a heavy piece of luggage or just twisting the wrong way. This can actually be more dangerous than a sedentary lifestyle.”
Whatever your mode of travel, get up and stretch and move around frequently to activate your core body muscles and lubricate your joints. Movement stimulates blood flow which carries waste products away from the area while allowing important nutrients and oxygen to move into the back, helping prevent soft tissues from stiffening and aching after sitting for a long time.
On a plane, train or bus, get up every 30 minutes and take a walk up and down the aisle. Alternatively, here are some stretches you can do both seated and standing. If traveling by car, stop every hour and stretch.
VIDEO: Stretches for Long Road Trips
Even 10 seconds of movement and stretching is better than sitting still. Movement also helps prevent blood clots from forming in the leg (called deep vein thrombosis), which is one of the most dangerous risks of sitting still for long periods.
Bring Your Own Back Support
Cars can be especially damaging to lower back while planes, trains and buses may have a bigger impact on the neck and shoulders. None of these seats offer ideal spine support, not even in first class, so consider bringing along your own support such as a lumbar pillow. If you don’t have one, or forget yours, a jacket, blanket or an airplane pillow can also be rolled up and placed at the inward curve of your lower back. Travel neck pillows can help avoid neck strain by providing head support while resting or sleeping in a sitting position.
Packing and Luggage
Packing light is the best way to prevent injury from lifting and carrying your luggage. If you’re toting a backpack, try to keep it to 15% of your own body weight (so if you weigh 150 pounds, carry no more than 23 pounds) and keep the load low by placing heavier items at the bottom to prevent neck strain. This also causes fewer changes in optimal posture and spinal curvature.
Back strain often occurs near the end of your range of motion and while loading the spine on an angle or twisting the trunk. So if you are lifting and moving around heavy luggage, move slowly and break the action into smaller parts whenever possible. For example, when lifting a bag into an overhead bin, first lift it onto the top of the seat and then into the bin in a separate motion. Similarly, when loading a suitcase into a car, the task can be broken into steps, lifting it first to a chair or stool, then lifting it into the trunk.
Here are a few more important guidelines to follow when lifting:
- Learn how to perform the abdominal brace without holding your breath while lifting.
- Bend at the knees and engage your leg muscles (not your back muscles) to do the lifting. Your back muscles should be involved in stabilizing the load around your spine while your leg muscles do the actual work of moving the load.
- Avoid twisting the low back while lifting. Instead, pivot with your feet. Square your hips with the load before loading and while off-loading.
- Carry heavy items as close to your body as possible. The apparent weight of the load increases the further you carry something away from your body.
- If you must carry heavy baggage, distribute weight as evenly as possible on each side of your body.
- If carrying a shoulder bag, switch sides often to avoid stressing one side of the back. Cross-body bags can be helpful in distributing the weight over the torso.
Finally, always maintain the natural curve of your lower back (keep your back straight, DO NOT round your spine; bend at your hips instead to take weight off of the knees and lower back) when lifting and moving any heavy object. For travel, consider bags with wheels and telescoping handles and backpacks with waist belts that keep the pack anchored to the hips to avoid the extra weight swaying back and forth adding further strain to the backbones and muscles.
“But I don’t feel anything”
This is something we hear frequently. Following travel, you might feel “off” for a few days, but not be in any specific pain or discomfort. This normal and it’s exactly what the body does – it compensates to alleviate pain or make up for a subluxation if one has occurred. “We see this situation a lot: a patient comes in experiencing a lot of pain as a result of something that happened a few years ago but went untreated,” says Dr. Loomis.
Don’t set yourself up for problems down the road. It only takes seven days to begin the degenerative aging process following a subluxation. The lack of blood flow blocks vital nutrients from reaching certain parts of the spine and cells begin to die. Every system of your body and every major organ is dependent on the central nervous system which transits through the spinal column. “I liken the process to someone who smokes or tans too much – you age quicker and you’ll have more problems with your body at an earlier age than if you didn’t do these things. The same goes for your spine. Left untreated, even minor subluxations can cause major problems sooner than later,” Dr. Loomis cautions.
Your best bet is to make an appointment for a routine adjustment within a week of returning from your travels. You’ll feel much better and your body will thank you for it.
Carney Chiropractic Center is dedicated to keeping you moving through life.