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You are hereHome › 10 Healthy Spine Tips for Travelers
10 Healthy Spine Tips for Travelers
10 Healthy Spine Tips for Travelers
Traveling can be bad for your back and neck health—but it doesn't have to be. Frequent travelers and vacationers can prevent backaches, stiff necks and overall soreness by steering clear of some classic mistakes.
For example, most people pack too much and then strain their backs pulling and lifting suitcases. They wear stylish but impractical shoes and then hurt themselves walking a quarter mile or more inside the airport. Or they schedule too much physical activity into a trip—trapeze lessons, beach volleyball, exploring the rainforest—and are then miserable because their bodies aren't accustomed to the rigor.
Back pain is the most common type of pain Americans experience, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey. More than 26 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 64 experience frequent back pain. Unfortunately, some of the best opportunities to hurt your back and neck actually happen on vacation—while you're in the car, on the plane or sleeping on a lumpy hotel bed. Here are some travel tips to keep your spine healthy.
Sit right. Adjusting your car seat helps you avoid stiffness, strains and soreness after a long drive. Place the seatback in the upright position (not 90 degrees, but more like 105 degrees), so you’re not leaning back. Move the whole seat forward and tilt it so your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are elevated slightly higher than your hips.
Look in the mirror. A great way to make sure you’re sitting upright and not slouching is to adjust the rearview mirror in the morning. When you wake up, you are at your tallest because your spine is fully hydrated. Then don't touch the mirror again. Adjust your posture to meet the mirror—not the other way around.
Grab the wheel. Drive with your hands at the 10 o’clock and 2 o'clock position, but make sure to drop your elbows so your arms and shoulders can relax. Alternatively, lower your steering wheel, grab the wheel at the 8 o’clock and 4 o'clock position, and rest your arms on the armrests or on your legs.
Stretch your neck. At stoplights or rest stops, do side-to-side head turns and gently tip your ear to your shoulder, repeating on both sides. This will help reduce stress that builds up during a long commute.
Start out slowly. When your back is idle for 20 minutes or so, fluids creep into the discs, making them more vulnerable to injury. So when you arrive at your destination after a long drive, don't jump out of the car and run to pick up the grandkids. Instead, take a few minutes to do some gentle stretches and reduce the fluid buildup in your disc area.
Lighten your load. Before you even board a crowded and cramped airplane, you face a bigger hazard: luggage. Pack as lightly as you can manage. Take advantage of curbside check-in if available so you don't have to haul bags farther than necessary.
Balance your load. When you carry bags, try to balance the load—a roller suitcase in one hand, your carry-on bag in the other. On long walks through airports, trade sides regularly. If you have a suitcase with wheels, load everything on it and push, don't pull, it. Pushing keeps the weight in front of you centrally, giving you better control.
Fly in comfort. On the plane, place a neck pillow or rolled-up blanket behind your neck so the headrest isn't pushing your head forward. Do the same behind your lower back to support the lumbar spine. If you can, use your carry-on bag like a footstool to raise your knees above the level of your hips. When reading, place a pillow or your rolled-up jacket on the pull-out tray, then place your reading material on top so you don't have to bend your neck downward to read.
Circulate the air. Never aim the airplane's overhead fan directly at your neck: It can cool down your neck muscles and cause spasms and neck pain later. Circulate the air around you; don't point it at you.
Pick your pillow. If you have a favorite pillow and can afford the luggage space, bring it along. If the hotel only has big pillows and you're a back sleeper, try to flatten it or move some of the fiber around to make a dip for your head. The goal with pillows is to keep your neck in a neutral position. Be sure to look in the closet or call the front desk—they may have more pillows to choose from. Or you can shape your own perfect pillow with a bath towel, folding it to look like a wedge-shaped cervical pillow (the thicker part of the wedge goes under your neck, the thinner part under your head).
Note: This article was adapted with permission from the book Back at Your Best: Balancing the Demands of Life with the Needs of Your Body by Jay M. Lipoff, CFT (www.BAYBBook.com).
Jay has been a private practice chiropractor since 1994 and is a certified fitness trainer. A nationally recognized expert in spinal injury prevention, he has taught at universities, lectured before professional audiences and appeared on national radio and TV with his messages on health and injury prevention. His new book is Back at Your Best: Balancing the Demands of Life with the Needs of Your Body (www.BAYBBook.com). Visit www.backatyourbest.com to learn more.
May 22nd, 2012