Enjoy vacation without aches and pains

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

By: Ahmet Dervish, MD

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Traveling should be a pleasant experience with friends and family. For people with neck or back pain, travel plans can be intimidating and stressful. Sitting for a prolonged period of time, along with the uncomfortable seats featured in cars, planes, and trains, can provoke pain in the neck and back. I have some tips to prevent or control the pain in order to enjoy your vacation.



Packing for your trip


Prevention measures begin with your packing list. Bring along some type of back support, such as a lumbar support pillow. The pillow is placed between your lower back and your seat. You can also use a rolled up blanket or sweater. If neck pain is an issue for you, bring along an inflatable travel pillow that fits snug around the neck.


Be mindful how much you pack. Lifting an overweight suitcase can strain the back or trigger other pain. Before you leave, test your ability to safely lift each piece of luggage. If you begin to struggle, remove unnecessary items.


If there is no choice but to have heavy luggage, lift each suitcase in steps and move slowly. If loading luggage into a car, first use a stepstool to set the luggage on, and then move it into the car. For overhead compartments on airplanes, use the seat to place the luggage on, and then lift into the compartment.


Follow these steps for safe lifting:

  • Keep both feet flat on the floor.
  • Bend at the knees and use the muscles in the legs to lift. Avoid using back muscles.
  • Do not twist the lower back; move your feet instead.
  • Heavy items should be carried close to the body.
  • Allocate weight evenly on both sides of the body.
  • While carrying a one-strap shoulder bag, alternate sides as to not stress one side of the back.


Travel time


Travel often calls for hours of sitting still. Attempt to break up the idle sitting every twenty to thirty minutes. Movement will keep stiffness and pain at bay. Stand up if you can, check your posture, and stretch out your hamstrings and hip flexors. If you are traveling via airplane, contemplate requesting a seat with extra leg room. If you are driving, make rest stops to stretch when it's convenient.


If you are not able to stand up, you can still stretch while sitting. Sit on the edge of your seat, lean forward and stretch one leg behind you as far as possible, placing your toe on the floor. Then, sit up straight while keeping your leg behind you. You should feel the stretch on the front muscle of the hip. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat with the opposite leg.


Also, stay hydrated! If dehydration sets in, your body will have trouble keeping cool, the muscles flexible and tendons comfortable. Keep water with you at all times.



Easy pain relief


Even with the precautions listed above, pain can strike. The quickest way to relieve your pain is a cold compress or alternating ice and heat. Cold compresses can be easily made with ice and a plastic bag. Also, ice packs and disposable heat wraps can be purchased at a variety of stores. For pain relief, alternate ice and heat every 10-15 minutes. Avoid using heat for an extended period of time, as it may cause swelling.


My recommendation for a painless or less painful travel experience: prevention and treating pain promptly. Take the time to assemble a packing list with the necessary items to keep your spine feeling limber. If pain does arise, immediately take action with ice and heat. Enjoy your trip!

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