If you’re one of the over 100 million Americans who travel for the holidays, chances are you might be making plans to spend some extended time in a car, on a train, or thousands of miles on a plane. Traveling can be fun and get you to spirited family get-togethers; however, it can also take a toll on your back, especially when you’re sitting down for lengthy periods of time.
Don’t miss this quick guide on avoiding back pain while traveling:
Common Causes of Back Pain
Older adults with back pain are typically dealing with either age-related wear and tear or some type of injury, whether it’s a mild muscle strain or a more serious herniated disk. Back pain most often stems from a handful of root issues:
- Soft tissue strain - when the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that help hold the musculoskeletal structure of your back together become strained from overuse, overextension, poor posture, etc., the result is often inflammation, pain, and stiffness.
- Degeneration - degeneration (both age-related and autoimmune instances) of the cushioning cartilage in the spine can lead to joint pain caused by increased friction between the bones in the back rubbing against one another.
- Nerve compression - collapsed vertebrae, swollen soft tissue, bone spurs, herniated disks . . . so many different factors can result in the compression of nerves coming off the spine. Resulting neuropathy may feel like aching pain, numbness, or tingling.
6 Tips to Avoid Back Pain While Traveling
Lift smart. Getting your luggage in and out of the car, off the baggage claim conveyor, and up onto your bed at the hotel might seem like any other action, but one bad tweak and your back could be out of commission for good. Take smart steps when it comes to luggage including utilizing roller bags, asking attendants (i.e. at the airport) to assist you, and as necessary, always lifting with your legs (squat to align your waist with your luggage, maintain a neutral spine, and use the power of your legs to help you move heavier pieces).
Watch what you eat. While delicious, holiday meals are oftentimes filled with lots of dishes made of inflammatory ingredients like white flours and sugars, processed ingredients, alcohol, you name it. Systemic inflammation can exacerbate existing pains, especially in your back, leading to more stiffness and aching. Balance your consumption of indulgent goodies with inflammation-fighting foods like antioxidant-rich fruits, fresh vegetables, whole grains, and dark leafy greens.
Stick with your sleep schedule. Holiday travel may have you crashing on different mattresses that simply don’t offer the comfort and support you are used to at home. While you can’t always control the mattress that you get to sleep on, you can extend some control over maintaining your regular sleep schedule. Avoiding late nights can help keep your brain (and back) in check by making sure you get plenty of quality rest each night.
Move and move some more. Simple walking could actually be your ticket to back pain relief this holiday travel season. Routine brisk walking is not just a great way to burn calories and exercise your heart, also naturally mobilizes your spine, stretches your muscles, and loosens your joints, including those in your knees, hips, and back. Incorporate more walking into your holiday travel by taking a walk each night before or after dinner and parking further from your destinations (i.e. the store, movie theatre, etc.) so you have to walk a longer distance.
Use helpful tools. Preventing stress and strain that can lead to back pain may be as easy as using helpful tools and devices that simplify your holiday travel. A travel neck pillow, for example, can provide support and good spine alignment for resting on a plane or in the car. Swivel seats and other car transfer devices can simplify the process of getting in and out of cars, especially high vehicles. And ergonomic seat cushions can generate beneficial back support that relieves pressure on your spine during long road trips.
Bring relief. Who says you have to suffer just because you are traveling and away from your usual home remedies? Plan ahead and put important items that help you manage chronic back pain on the go on your packing list. These may include a heating pad, a disposable ice pack, topical medications, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, a posture correcting brace, etc. Make room for relief in your suitcase and be ready to tackle pain no matter where your holiday travels take you.