How to Deal With Neck Pain While Travelling

How to Deal With Neck Pain While Travelling

By Dr. Shoaib Muhammad , published on September 14, 2023
Dr Shoaib Muhammad,MD

Neck pain while travelling can turn a great trip into a long and seemingly unending nightmare.

Whether you're driving or on a long-haul flight, we'll help you determine the cause and offer guidance on how to deal with the problem.

Cause of Neck Pain When Travelling

Poor Seating Positions

If you sit in your car with poor posture, you can strain your neck muscles, which can cause pain and stiffness. Slouching while sitting in a car, train, or plane for extended periods can cause a bend in your neck.

It's best just to correct the issue now as it will only get worse with time. 

Ideally, you should have suitable lumbar support while sitting and maintain an angle of the car seat below or above 100°, meaning that you're leaning slightly back. 

Your rear mirrors and side mirrors may also not be adjusted correctly. While challenging to see, blind spots clearly can also cause stress on your neck while driving[2].

Unsupported head and neck can also stress your neck, and you feel pain in response[3].

A slouched posture or spine while travelling puts stress on your neck too[2].


When stressed, we tend to clench our jaw or neck muscles. As driving is also stressful, longer trips can make the problem worse. Sometimes, your body reacts to mind stress in the form of tension in your arms and neck muscles. That's why it's common to feel pain in your neck while driving[1].

Poor Vision

Poor vision can cause strain in your eye muscles, meaning you have to make an effort to bend your neck forward to see unclear pathways or blind spots on the road. Neck pain happens as a result[3].

Carrying Luggage With Poor Form

Carrying heavy luggage with thin and unpadded straps can cause neck aches and pains. Using poor body mechanics while lifting luggage from the floor during travelling can also cause strain on your neck and be stiff and painful[4].

Weak Muscles Before Longer Trips

If your neck muscles are weak, it can also cause pain during travelling, as stress impacts the weakest parts of your body. If that's your neck, it can be painful while travelling long distances.

Neck exercises, if not done correctly or before longer trips, can cause your weakened neck muscles to be painful on longer journeys[4].

why do you get neck pain while travelling

What to Do Before You Travel

  • Staying hydrated improves your blood circulation, making you feel active and healthy. Being dehydrated during travel worsens your neck pain if you experience any during travel[4].
  • Perform neck strengthening exercises, including cervical retraction, shoulder shrugs, and lateral neck stretches, one to three times per hour before you travel to reduce the chance of neck pain[4].
  • Performing relaxation techniques before travelling, including yoga, simple breathing exercises, and aromatherapy, can help you stay calm before long trips.
  • Listen to music or podcasts while travelling on long road trips[4].
  • Take frequent breaks from your mobile or computer device to keep your neck straightened and reduce pressure on your spine before you travel for a long trip[4].
  • Use ergonomic lifting techniques while carrying heavy luggage. Use a suitcase of lightweight materials, such as canvas and vinyl, or plastics, such as polycarbonate. Use a wheelchair or cart to carry heavy luggage with you during travel[5].
  • Perform postural exercises to keep your head and back straightened and relax arms and shoulders to reduce neck pressure in response to these while driving[6].
  • Perform stretch neck exercises at regular intervals every two hours while driving to keep blood flowing to your neck muscles[6].
  • Carry a pillow and blanket with you for support over hard or uncomfortable seats to provide you with more comfort when you're on a flight. Always choose an airline that can accommodate medical conditions before you book a flight[7].

Tips for Managing Neck Pain Flying on Planes

Wearing a Travel Pillow

A travel pillow can minimise the chances of pressure on your back and head throughout the flight. It can minimise your chances of being fatigued. Get good sleep during the flight and use pillows to rest.

Consider Pain Killers

Painkillers, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can minimise pain and inflammation in your neck before the start of the flight[8]. More on pain killers and bodily pain here.

Physical Therapy for Neck Pain After the Flights

It can be a good idea to use heat or cold packs to prevent neck stiffness after a flight.

Continue to do neck exercises after your journey too. Neck rolls, ankle rolls, shoulder rolls, foot raises, forward bends, knee hugs and raises, and cross-legged stretches all help.

And yes, even if the body part doesn't appear to be connected to the neck, the body is one whole organism, so they can and do help.

These stretches relax your body muscles, engage your body muscles in meditation and provide immense relief during longer flights[7].

how to manage neck pain on flightsWalk Around Your Cabin

Walk around the cabin every hour during the flight or going to use the bathroom gives your back a time to stretch[7]. This helps loosen the muscles that tighten while sitting and helps keep your posture holding strong[8].

Stay Hydrated and Limit Caffeine Intake

The right amount of water intake hydrates your body and eases tension on your joints during a flight, keep blood circulation in your neck muscles[7].

Drinking a good amount of water during your flight nourishes connective tissues in your neck and minimises the chances of your neck getting stiff during a long flight.[4].

Tips for Neck Pain While Driving

Use a Headrest Pillow

Headrest pillows release pressure and relieve stiffness in your neck while driving[9].

It provides full support to the back and center of your head, additional support to your lower back reduces pressure on your neck while driving[10].

Use a Lumbar Cushion Pillow

Lumbar cushions available with seat cushions built in also decreases pressure on the spine, keeping the spine and head straight lowering stress on the neck. It also adds extra comfort while sitting in you car[4].

When your lumbar muscles are supported, it stops them from straining and helps maintain the natural curve of your spine [1].

Strengthen Your Neck With Training Equipment

Neck training equipment is often advised by physiotherapists to strengthen your neck and minimise the chances pain during a drive. It's difficult to train your neck with traditional gym equipment, so a specialised product is often the way to go[1].

how to manage neck pain while drivingStart With a Good Driving Posture

A good driving posture helps. That usually means:

  • Arms slightly bent and relaxed
  • Feet able to reach the pedals
  • A fully supported seat

These all help to minimise the chance of neck pain while driving[1].

You can find a full article on driving with back pain here, much of which is relevant to your neck pain.

Position of Your Hands While Driving

Position your hands comfortably on the steering wheel. Driving with hands on the lower portion of the steering wheel minimises pressure on the neck[1].

Adjust Your Mirrors and Use Sunglasses

Car mirrors, when correctly positioned, can prevent straining in your neck[1]. Sunglasses rated at least 99 ultraviolet ray protection can avoid strain on your eye muscles reduce pressure on your neck.

When you do this, it prevents you from leaning forward to observe or driving in bright sunlight[3]. This can have a knock-on effect and protects your whole body[10].

Make Use of Cruise Control

Cruise control allows your feet to be flat on the car floor, providing rest to your legs and promotes good body posture while driving[1]. Cruise control reduces pressure on your neck while driving during longer trips[10].


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6. Is Your Driving Posture Causing You Pain? – Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. [cited 2023 Sep 2]. Available from:

7. Care (DISC) DI for S. How to Help Back and Neck Pain Before, During, and After a Flight [Internet]. Desert Institute for Spine Care. 2022 [cited 2023 Sep 2]. Available from:

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