Traveling, whether by plane, train, car, bus, or unicycle, is often hard on the body. There are many things you can do to make traveling a less painful experience. It does require some work, but it’s worth it. I’ve had countless patients come in with acute pain that was caused or aggravated by a recent trip. Try as many of the measures below as you can manage:
- Drink lots of water. Water is vital for joint lubrication and muscle pliability. The amount of water you consume when traveling can be the deciding factor in whether or not you have pain.
- Limit coffee or avoid it altogether. Coffee and travel go hand in hand for many folks. Unfortunately, it promotes dehydration, both because of its diuretic quality, and because when you’re drinking a big coffee, you don’t have room in your stomach for much water. Also, some studies indicate coffee contains compounds that promote inflammation. If you need some caffeine, green tea – or even caffeine pills, if you must – are a better bet.
- Avoid low quality food. Convenience store food and airplane pretzels are, sadly, common fare while traveling. This stuff makes you feel crappy. Instead, plan ahead. Set aside the time to pack your own good food. Some suggestions: a bag full of carrot sticks, celery, cucumber, nuts (preferably not salted and oil-roasted), nut butter (preferably not peanut), fruit (fresh, not dried), non-fat Greek yogurt (if you digest dairy well), and hard boiled eggs.
- Move as much as you can. Stretch whenever you can. If you’re stuck in a seat, some moves to consider: twist your torso, shrug your shoulders, bring a knee up to your face, reach for the sky, rotate your head side to side and up and down, tuck your chin and tip your head back, lift and point your toes, bend your chest toward a thigh with your leg out straight. Sitting with both feet flat on the floor, lift them both by about a half an inch and hold them there, using your core, for one minute. If you can get out of your vehicle and move, do so as often as possible, or as soon as you arrive at your destination. One of the first things to do is a hamstring stretch, such as a basic forward bend, or sitting on the floor with legs out, try to touch your toes. Even one minute of yoga every hour or two can make such a difference on a long road trip. Set an alarm to remind you.
- Lift your luggage in steps, use your legs, and don’t twist. Lots of travel strain comes from lifting heavy bags – especially if combined with a twist. For instance, picking up a heavy suitcase and lifting it into a trunk with a twist at the end while all the weight is on one’s lower back. Rather than lifting a bag from the ground into the trunk, set it on the bumper, pause, realign, and then move it into the trunk. Rather than lifting a bag from the aisle of the plane to the overhead compartment, set it on a seat-back, pause, realign, then move it into the bin. If there’s someone in the seat, watch out for their head, or they may get a travel-related pain they didn’t bargain for. Instead of using your lower back, engage your abdomen and thighs, bend at your knees and try to engage your whole body. Don’t twist your spine while bearing a heavy load; instead pivot on your feet. Finally, think about how much it might be worth to you to avoid tweaking that herniated disc. The few bucks you might tip a bellhop or driver to load your bags could be well worth it.
- Avoid shoulder bags, or at least switch shoulders often. Shoulder bags can cause so many problems – in the neck, the head, the back, the chest, and the arms. You have to carry something on your back, use a real backpack and wear both straps. If that’s not an option, get a mail-carrier/courier type bag with a long strap that goes across your chest and a good, wide, padded area where it crosses your shoulder. If that’s not an option, at least get a bag with a good shoulder pad and adjustable strap length. Set it down whenever you’re not moving. Switch sides frequently. Pack it lightly.
- Make sure your wheels work. What’s the use of having rolling bags if the wheels are messed up. I have hurt my own back by dragging a bag with damaged wheels and doing odd, jerky maneuvers to keep it from falling over. You may not have to replace the whole bag – new wheels may be available.
- Maintain good posture. Keep your shoulders back, your spine straight, and your chest open. Be sure your chin isn’t jutting forward – keep it slightly tucked instead, so that the top of your head points straight up. Use arm rests if available. If driving, adjust your car seat and steering wheel so you’re comfortable and not reaching out for the wheel. Try a lumbar support cushion. Squeeze your belly button toward your spine whenever you think about it. Be sure to sit on your sitz bones (those bony prominences near the crease where your buttocks meet the backs of your thighs), rather than slouching on your sacrum (the bony plate at the base of your spine).
- Bring some Imbue patches with you. If you know that sitting in a car, train, or plane is likely to make you feel bad, put one on at the beginning of the trip. Otherwise, see how you’re feeling when you get to your destination and if there’s the slightest tweak or ache, put on a patch – by morning it will likely feel fine. One of our first miracle stories was a customer with a hamstring injury who couldn’t bear to sit still on a plane, yet regularly had to travel from Montana to Florida. She dreaded every flight. After getting some Imbue pain patches, she applied one at the beginning of a trip and, for the first time in over a year, felt pain free for the whole plane ride!
- Bring a tennis ball or lacrosse ball with you. When you get to your destination – or anywhere you can lie down – roll on it. Get the ball into your upper back along the inside edge of your shoulder blades, then in your lower back, hips, and buttocks. In fifteen or twenty minutes, you can undo much of the damage of a day of travel.
- If you really must talk to that good looking person next to you, avoid keeping your head turned the whole time. Try shifting your hips toward them, so there’s less of a twist in your spine. Turn your head the other way frequently to give it a break, and consider switching seats after a while so you each get a chance to turn your head the other way.
- If possible, don’t try to work. Just relax, listen to some good music, and look out the window. If you like to read a book on the plane, stand it up. If it’s a Kindle or tablet, tilt it upright, and if it’s a paper book, use a cheap, basic book stand.
Try these suggestions on your next trip. It just might mean a more fun vacation or better performance at a business conference. Meanwhile, if you need more support to get rid of your pain, please check out my online course, Live Pain Free.
Copyright 2012 by Peter Borten. No reproduction allowed in any form without permission.