6 pain-free travel tips
Back and neck pain can intensify when traveling due to the myriad stresses placed on the spine’s intricate network of muscles, joints, and discs.
A common source of back strain while traveling is handling and lifting luggage, as well as sitting for long periods.
Here are 5 essential travel tips to minimize back strain and pain that can quickly become severe on long travel days:
Get comfortable immediately
Take the time to make sure you’re comfortable from the moment you set off on your trip. The smallest irritant in the beginning of your trip can turn into raging pain later.
- Keep your back pockets empty. Sitting on your wallet, phone, or anything else may throw your spine out of alignment.
- Sit up straight with your knees slightly higher than your hips, and keep your chin pulled in so that your head sits straight on top of your spine.
- Sit a comfortable distance from the steering wheel. For airbag safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises sitting with your breastbone at least 10 inches from the steering wheel.
- But don’t sit too far away either, which can cause you to reach too far for wheel and places more stress on the lumbar spine, neck, shoulder, and wrists.
- Keep your back aligned against the back of your seat. To better support the contour of the inward curve in your lower back, use a small pillow or roll up a scarf and place it between your lower back and the seat.
Make your ride as smooth as possible
Bumps in the road can jar your spine and increase pain. For a smoother ride, consider:
- Riding in a passenger car, rather than an SUV or pickup
- Replacing worn shocks to limit the bounce in the car
- Replacing worn tires to reduce vibration or shaking
- Sitting on a car seat pillow or coccyx cushion to provide more padding between you and the road
Get out and move around
Sitting in one position in a car will stiffen up your back muscles and can lead to achiness and possibly muscle spasm. Everyone should ideally take at least a 15-minute break for every 2 hours of driving.
Shift your position periodically
When possible, try to move a little in your seat. Even 10 seconds of movement and stretching is better than sitting still. At a minimum adjust your seat and change your position slightly every 15 to 20 minutes.
Try heat or cold therapy
- Cold therapy can help reduce inflammation and swelling. Consider bringing a cooler to store reusable ice packs or other cold therapy packs. You can buy cold therapy packs at the store or make your own.
- Heat therapy can help increase blood flow and relax the muscles. Various types of heat therapy are available to buy, such as heat wraps or heat pads. You can also make your own moist heat pack. Some people prefer to place a moist heat pack in the microwave so it’s warm when they go on the trip.
Support your back with your feet
Supporting your spine starts with bottom-up leverage from your feet. Your feet need to be placed on a firm surface and at the right height to avoid transferring stress to your lower back. It is ideal to have your knees at a right angle.