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How to avoid back pain when flying

We all love going away on holiday, whether it’s for sun, sea and sand or snow and adventure or simply, just to relax. Getting there is often the most uncomfortable part! Taking a flight to your destination often comes with a seat that lacks support, restricted leg room after standing around at the airport for long periods, and carrying or pushing heavy luggage.

There are several reasons why our backs can become aggravated during a flight, one of which is cabin pressure. Low cabin pressure can impact our muscles, joints, and discs by causing a temporary expansion of the tissues in our body. Therefore, placing our muscular skeletal system under great stress. This often leads to us becoming fidgety and uncomfortable whilst trying to find the best position to sit back and relax.

When arriving at the airport, be sure to wear some comfy & supportive footwear to absorb the impact of walking on hard flooring and standing in queues. When thinking about what clothes to wear, nothing beats being comfy, especially on a long flight. Be sure to choose something unrestrictive to allow you to move freely during the flight.

Not only do we take a suitcase on holiday, we also often take a bag for our all-important travel essentials during the flight. It is important for our spine that we remain balanced, so a top tip would be to travel with a backpack with two straps to keep our travel essentials well distributed.

Lifting heavy luggage in and out of the car, loading it onto the check-in conveyor belt, or simply pushing & pulling your case around, are instances where we should act with caution. It’s not often that we are pulling, pushing, or even lifting 20+kg around, so it’s important to think about how we do these movements. If you are towing your case or carrying a small bag, switch between both arms if possible, don’t become over-reliant on one side as this can result in increased pressure on our spine. When lifting your case, take your time! Make sure your back is straight, core is engaged, and you’re bending from your hips and not your low back (think shutting the kitchen drawer with your bottom!) and remember to use your legs when lifting. Using this formula will help protect your spine and give you a more comfortable flight.

When you are on board, it’s important to stay hydrated throughout your flight. Hydration along with nutritionally dense foods, like nuts, are important components for our muscles to stay supple and mobile, decreasing the likelihood for muscle tension, cramps, and muscle spasms whilst on board.

Below are 5 top tips for a more comfortable flight:

  1. Bring a small towel to place at the bottom of your back to give some lumbar support (or use a rolled-up jumper)!
  2. Stand and walk up and down the aisle every 30-45 mins if safe to do so.
  3. Put your bag in the overhead locker so you can stretch your legs under the seat in front.
  4. If you are reading on the flight, be sure to read with your head in a neutral position; too much neck flexion will aid back pain.
  5. Keep both feet flat on the floor; crossing your legs will cause pelvic rotation leading to low back discomfort.
  6. Do some pre-flight yoga – Check out this video

Once you have landed and gotten off the plane, make sure you walk at a nice steady speed to pump the blood around your low back and legs before the long-awaited baggage reclaim and lifting your case off the conveyor belt.

Happy pain-free holidays!

Elizabeth Garvey
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