Chronic Pain? 10 Tips for Comfortable Travel

If you've ever been stuck sitting uncomfortably on a train, bus, or a plane for any length of time, you know how it feels to be trapped in pain.

Even your own car seat can leave you with an achy neck or back if you're not careful about how you sit. Thankful, you can relax. There are steps to ensure that traveling from one place to another is a pleasant, rather than a painful, experience.

When you travel with a bad back, you don't have to be at the mercy of cramped seating, poorly positioned headrests or mile-high hotel pillows. Pack lightly and take a few tips from Dr. Jay M. Lipoff, chiropractor, certified fitness trainer, and author of Back at Your Best: Balancing the Demands of Life with the Needs of Your Body.

In Your Car

1. When you get in your car, sit upright and adjust your rearview mirror. At the end of the workday, or during a road trip, when you're more prone to slouch, adjust your posture to the mirror, not the other way around.

2. Fine tune your seat so that it is positioned upright at about a 105-degree angle with the floor. Move the seat forward to where your feet sit flat on the floor and your knees are slightly higher than your hips.

3. Raise your car's headrest so that it meets the back of your head. This helps protect against whiplash in the event of a short stop.

On a Plane, Bus, or Train

4. Place a neck pillow, rolled up blanket, or some rolled up t-shirts behind your neck to support it. This also prevents the built-in headrest from pushing your head forward. Do the same behind your lower back to support your lumbar spine.

5. If there's a foot rest, use it to raise your knees above the level of your hips. If there is no footrest, use your carry-on luggage for the same purpose.

6. For reading or similar activities, pull the tray out from the seat in front of you. Place a pillow, piece of small luggage, or your rolled up jacket on top of the tray, then put your book, laptop or crossword puzzle on top of that. This way you don't have to hold your neck in a bent position for long periods of time.

7. Aim the overhead fan so that it circulates the air around you without blowing directly on your neck. If your neck muscles get too cold, they may start to spasm later on.

In a Hotel

8. Pillows can be a problem—even luxury hotels. Hotel pillows are often overstuffed and hold your head up much higher from the mattress than is healthy for your neck and spine. If you can't beat the pillow down to size, Dr. Lipoff recommends looking in the closet or calling the front desk to see if there are other pillows to choose from.

9. Your pillow should keep your neck in a neutral position the same as when you are standing or sitting and looking straight ahead. If you're stuck with a lofty pillow, take a towel from the bathroom, roll it up and put it behind your neck. You know your head is in the right position if your ears are aligned with your shoulders.

Any Time, Any Place

10. Whenever your back is immobile for more than 20 minutes, your disks fill up with fluids, becoming enlarged and tight. On a long trip, Dr. Lipoff recommends getting up from time to time and doing light stretches to reduce the fluid build-up and keep your spine flexible. Whatever you do, don't jump out of your seat when you get to your destination. Get up slowly and gently stretch your limbs to loosen up all the muscles in your body that have been sitting idle while you were traveling.




Lipoff, Jay M. Back at Your Best: Balancing the Demands of Life with the Needs of Your Body