How to Avoid a Pain in the Neck When Traveling

Travel can have detrimental effects to back and neck health.  Sitting still for long periods in stuffy environments can create and aggravate existing musculoskeletal complaints.  It’s the last thing you need when you arrive at your awaited destination. Planning your trip will make it a more enjoyable experience.

Luckily enough there are some very simple things that are easy to do that can reduce the chance of aggravating your lower back and neck.

1. Preparing for departure:

  • Bring a good neck pillow. An additional pillow to place under your feet or in the small of your back is also helpful.
  • Remember to put your over-the-counter medications in your carry-on bag.
  • Take a portable heat/ice pack or bring a baggie and ask the flight attendant for ice.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance to lift or move luggage but if none is available, bend at the knees using your leg muscles, not your back muscles to lift and avoid twisting your lower back. Instead, pivot with your feet while carrying heavy objects close to your body.
  • When carrying a one-shoulder bag, switch sides often to avoid stressing one side of your back.
  • And then there’s what not to pack — too much of anything else. Keep your travel baggage light. Think about taking a backpack or make sure your suitcase has wheels.


2. Stay Hydrated

  • Drinking lots of water will leave you feeling less jetlagged and less dehydrated post flight.
  • Water keeps your joints and discs hydrated which in turn reduces stiffness and decompression of your spine.
  • It makes you need to go to the toilet.  This means you have to be mobile throughout the flight.

3. Every hour, get up and walk for five minutes 

  • Not only does it increase circulation and help prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis, but it reduces stiffness in the joints and tightness in your muscles.

4. Do some easy stretches

  • Try some of the exercises below for your neck and lower back every hour.  Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and repeat 1-3 times each, multiple times through the day.

10 Stretches for neck and back pain while traveling
5. Research prior to your flight where the best seats are on the plane. 

  • The websites Seat Expert and Seat Guru have done all the research for you.  Type in the plane model that you are flying, it will outline the pros and cons of all the seats.  You can then try to request one that will best suit your needs for the flight.
  • As a general rule, requesting an aisle seat or exit row means more legroom and avoiding seats near the toilets where people queue will prevent being bumped into.  The last row of chairs in an aircraft generally don’t recline.
  • Don’t carry your wallet and mobile phone in your back pocket.

6. Get Documentation from your physician

  • Your spine healthcare provider may be able to give you a letter about your neck and lower back pain to the airline flight crew who may be able to make an accommodation for your needs. You may be upgraded to business class and can be allowed to get up more frequently to walk around.  Also you may be provided with blankets for cushions to prop your legs up, support your low back and comfort your neck.
  • In the event that you do aggravate your back and neck during the flight, it is useful to have pre-researched an appropriate health care practitioner that you could visit conveniently.  This not only cuts out a lot of hassle that wastes time on your trip but also gives you some peace of mind.  If you are super organized, requesting a letter from your current health care practitioner describing your back pain complaint and current management will help the new practitioner to get a handle more quickly on your presenting complaint.
  • Check and get proper travel insurance for your needs.

Traveling when you have neck pain can be a challenge. Remember to take frequent breaks to stretch and relax your neck muscles. Always keep your neck supported with good posture and a neck pillow, if needed. Remember to eat nutritious snacks, drink plenty of water keeping your spine lubricated and keep moving. With some pre-planning and by keeping these basic principles in mind you will arrive at your destination without having aggravated your neck pain. You will feel much better and your neck and back will appreciate it.


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