By Lindsey Rose, PT, DPT, BS
Performing Arts Medicine Outreach
Warm weather and sunny days; it seems like summer is finally here and with that comes traveling, whether it be by plane, train, or automobile. While flight delays and construction traffic are unfortunate “aches and pains” that come with summer travel, low back pain, and neck pain don’t have to be. Here are some easy tips to use while traveling this summer.
First, be aware of luggage when traveling. Try to avoid purchasing oversized luggage, as once packed, it will be too heavy to lift safely. Typically a four-wheeled suitcase will be more “user-friendly” when moving throughout the airport. It allows you to transport the luggage by your side in a neutral wrist posture and requires less force to move. It is also recommended to use a backpack (on both shoulders) or strap laptop bags and purses onto your suitcase versus using a single strap. This will avoid any increased stress on the neck and shoulders, as it is best to evenly distribute weight throughout both shoulders. Next, when boarding a plane and carrying on luggage it is important to break the lifting motion into two parts. First, lift your luggage onto the top of the seat and then finally into the overhead bin. When lifting luggage into the car, bend from the knees to lift your bag from the ground, keep the bags close to your body, avoid twisting from your back while lifting, and instead pivot your feet. Once you have arrived at your destination and are settled in your hotel room, use the luggage rack and avoid placing your luggage on the floor. If a luggage rack isn’t available, then use a chair or an ottoman.
Next, be aware of posture when seated on a plane or in the car. Support your back and feet, especially during a long flight or car ride. It is important to bring lumbar support. If you don’t have one, take your jacket, sweater or blanket, roll it up, and place it at the curve of your low back. Also, a travel pillow will help support the neck when in a sitting position to avoid neck strain during rest or sleep. Having firm support for the feet will also allow for less stress on the low back. Try to rest your feet on a footrest to keep your knees at a 90-degree angle to avoid stress on the low back. While driving, having both feet on the floor is a more ergonomically correct position compared to having a foot on the gas pedal. Therefore, consider using cruise control for long distance driving. Also, when driving, make sure the steering wheel has been adjusted for each driver’s comfort, to avoid having to reach for the wheel.
Finally, it is best to take walking and stretching breaks during long flights and long car rides, ideally once an hour. This, of course, is not always a feasible option, so below are some recommendations for stretches to perform while seated, if you are unable to get up and move about during a flight or car ride.
Exercises to perform in a tight space, such as a car or plane
1. Gentle upper trapezius stretch: Sit up nice and tall, sit on right hand, allow head to move to the left, left ear to left shoulder, use left hand to provide gentle overpressure to feel stretch on right side of neck, hold 30seconds, repeat 3 times (repeat on both sides)
2. Gentle levator scapulae stretch: Sit up nice and tall, sit on right hand, allow head to move to the left, left ear to left shoulder and then left chin toward armpit, use the left hand to provide over pressure in the down direction to feel stretch on the right posterior side of the neck, hold 30seconds, repeat 3 times (repeat on both sides)
3. Seated Piriformis figure four stretch: Cross right ankle over left knee, keep back flat and lean chest forward toward knees, feel stretch in right, posterior hip (glutes), hold 30seconds, repeat 3 times (repeat on both sides)
4. Seated Hamstring Stretch: Sit up nice and tall, extend knee straight, place heel on the floor, keep back straight, lean chest forward toward thigh, feel a stretch in the back of the thigh, hold 30seconds, repeat 3 times (repeat on both sides)