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Posted on 06-26-2018

Summertime is in full swing. For many of us that means longer days, more time with family, a slower pace - and maybe a fun trip or two. 

But summer travel can also result in back pain and a stiff neck for many people. What are the likely causes and how can you proactively prevent the onset of aches and pains?

Extended Travel Times

If you’re spending long periods of travel time while sitting in the same position, you might find yourself dealing with back pain, a stiff neck, or leg cramps. And it’s no wonder! Efficiency has replaced comfort; airlines have reduced legroom and seat padding with many automobile manufacturers following suit. 

At the end of your journey, it’s not uncommon for your back, neck and legs to ache. How can you mitigate your pains and make your trip more enjoyable?

  • Do your preflight homework. Did you know you can compare airlines and airplane configurations on websites like SeatGuru? Get familiar with the various carriers and jet models, some of which have significantly more leg room and seat width.

  • Consider flying first class, if your budget allows. The added room that comes with first class or business class can be a great investment. If first class is not an option, keep your eyes open for other seating choices that allow for more leg room. Extra leg room lets you lean back and maintain a neutral spine position plus stretch your calves, making a stiff neck, leg cramps and back pain far less likely.

  • Get help with your carry-on. Don’t forget to keep your carry-on luggage as light as possible and never hesitate to ask the cabin crew for help when lifting your belongings into the overhead bins. It’s better to pack two or three smaller bags than one large suitcase.

  • Pack external support. Don’t leave home without your secret weapon: external support systems like back braces, cervical travel pillows, or lumbar rolls. You’ll love the extra spinal support, especially when your window airplane seat, crowded train, or traffic jam make are keeping you confined to your seat. 

If you’re using a brace to reduce back pain, apply the back brace while standing up and looking straight ahead to keep a neutral spine.

Your travel pillows and lumbar rolls should be big enough to support the natural curve of your neck and low back, but not large enough to push your entire body away from your seat. The back of your head, for example, should still be touching the seat.

And if your legs don’t reach the floor, bring along a folding footstool; your feet should never dangle.

  • Take stretch breaks. Whether you’re travelling by plane or car, stretching every 60-90 minutes can ease lower body cramping and swelling. In a plane, stand in the aisle flat-footed, then lift your heels upward keeping your toes flat on the floor. Choose an aisle seat so you can get up and stretch more frequently without worrying about troubling others. If travelling by car, use fuel stops to stretch your back and legs. Increasing your circulation will reduce that bloated feeling that often accompanies long journeys.

Broken Routines

Later starts to your day, increased family activities-- even with the best of intentions, summertime can destroy your regular routine. How can you maintain your diet and exercise habits while on the road?

  • Enjoy your snacks, but choose healthier versions. It’s tempting to go into vacation mode and indulge in all your favorite foods. You’ll feel better if you stay well-hydrated and avoid excessive junk food, caffeine and alcohol.When that salty snack craving hits, replace your go-to potato chips with a popped-chip alternative. You’ll still get the satisfying crunch with the lighter, healthier popped chips that have about half the fat of regular potato chips. Other healthy (and delicious) substitutions include swapping out your favorite candy for yogurt-covered raisins, or choosing a protein bar instead of a sugary granola bar.

  • Don't skimp on exercise. Summer is a great time to enjoy outdoor exercise--you can walk and run just about anywhere! Renting bikes or heading out for a hike are fun family activities and also great ways to explore a new area. Be on the lookout for fun local workout opportunities, too, like yoga in the park. Remember, hitting the gym every day isn’t necessarily a requirement-- the goal is to stay active. 

Summer travel means switching up your surroundings, but it doesn’t have to mean taking a break from self-care and healthy practices. 

Hey, we get it. You’re experiencing pain and are seeking answers as to what might be causing it. Everybody’s pain is unique. This article is not intended to provide diagnosis or treatment. Rather, professional consultation specific to your symptoms is recommended. Summer is the perfect time to stop into our Council Bluffs office - call us at (712) 227-5131 to schedule an appointment or book online here.

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