25 Tips To Boost Comfiness When Travelling With Back Pain - SNUGL.co
June 01, 2023

25 Tips To Boost Comfiness When Travelling With Back Pain

25 Tips To Boost Comfiness When Travelling With Back Pain

By Dr Shoaib Muhammad , published on June 01, 2023
Dr Dusan Sekulic MD

Are you one of the millions of people who suffer from back pain?

If so, you're probably here hoping to figure out how to arrive at your destination as happy and pain-free as possible.

As usual, I've got you covered. 

Read on for expert tips that will transform your journey and bring comfort back to your adventures whether you're in the air or on the road.

So, fasten your seatbelts, adjust your posture, and get ready to embark on a voyage towards a more enjoyable and pain-free travel experience.

Tips For Comfort When Air Traveling With Back Pain

Air travel can be a daunting experience, especially if you suffer from back pain. The long hours of sitting in cramped seats and limited movement doesn't help.

Besides that, the cabin pressure in aeroplanes can impact your back pain too, especially if you have an underlying back condition.

When the aircraft ascends, the cabin pressure decreases, which can lead to the expansion of gases in body tissues, including those your spinal discs.

This expansion can increase pressure on nerves and contribute to pain. But, with proper planning and a few helpful tips, you can minimise the impact on your back and make your journey more bearable.

General Back Pain Flying Tips

Maintain Good Posture

Be mindful of your posture throughout the flight. Sit with your back against the seat, shoulders relaxed, and feet flat on the floor. Avoid slouching or crossing your legs to minimise strain on your lower back [3].

Stay Hydrated and Practice Healthy Habits

Dehydration can worsen muscle tension and increase discomfort, so staying hydrated during air travel is essential. Drink plenty of water and avoid excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeine, as they can contribute to dehydration.

Pack a Lumbar Pillow

Bring a lumbar pillow to provide support and maintain a healthy spinal curvature during the flight. Place it between your lower back and the seat to reduce strain and promote proper alignment [2]. This will help in general, especially if you have either sciatica or a herniated disc.

Tips For Flying With Sciatica

Choose an Aisle Seat

When booking your flight, opt for an aisle seat whenever possible. This allows you to stretch your legs and move around more freely, reducing the pressure on your sciatic nerve [1].

Use Heat or Cold Therapy

Before the flight, apply a heating pad or a cold pack to your lower back to help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. If you don't have either, travel with some Deep Heat as it does help back pain. You can also consider using heat patches during the flight for ongoing relief [2].

Perform Gentle Stretches

During the flight, take breaks to perform gentle stretches that target your lower back and hamstrings. Simple exercises like knee-to-chest stretches and seated spinal twists can help relieve tension and alleviate discomfort [1]. See my full article on exercises and stretches for back pain here.

A diagram showing the knee to chest stretch, performed while lying on your back, raising one knee to your chest, then the other, then both

A diagram showing the rotational stretch, sitting on a chair while crossing legs one over the other and rotating the upper body to strengthen the spine, shoulders and abs

Flying With A Herniated Disc

Request Special Seating

Some airlines offer special accommodations for passengers with back pain or disabilities. Contact your airline in advance to inquire about options such as bulkhead seating or seats with extra legroom. These seats provide more space and can help alleviate pressure on your herniated disc [3].

Pack Medications and Pain Relievers

Make sure to bring any prescribed medications for your herniated disc on board. It's also a good idea to carry over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to manage any discomfort during the flight [3]. I discuss OTC and other painkillers for back pain here.

Engage in Gentle Exercises

Perform gentle exercises and stretches that target your core and lower back to keep your muscles engaged and prevent stiffness. Simple activities like pelvic tilts and seated leg extensions can help alleviate discomfort [5].

Managing Luggage & Wait Times

Use Luggage Trolleys

Don't carry heavy bags or suitcases for extended periods. Instead, make use of luggage trolleys available at airports to reduce strain on your back [3].

Pack Wisely

When packing, distribute the weight evenly in your luggage. Place heavier items at the bottom and centre of your bags to maintain balance and prevent unnecessary strain on your back when lifting or carrying them [3].

Take Breaks and Sit Whenever Possible

Long wait times can be physically demanding. Take breaks whenever possible and find a seat to rest and relieve pressure on your back. Also, avoid standing for extended periods, as it can strain your back muscles [6].

Consider Pre-Booking Assistance

If you’ve difficulty standing or walking for long periods, consider pre-booking assistance at the airport. You can get a wheelchair or help navigating through security and boarding processes more comfortably [6].

Consider a backpack

If you need to carry a bag on your back, choose a backpack with adjustable straps and a padded back. This will help distribute weight evenly and provide better support for your back [3].

Tips For Comfortable Road Trips With Back Pain

Road trips can be daunting when you have back pain.

Long hours on stretches of road and, potholes, and limited mobility can all make travelling by road worse if you back pain, so plan ahead.

Like with flying, a few tips and a little preparation can go a long way to making your journey more enjoyable.

Whether your back pain is more general, or caused by muscle strain, herniated discs, or arthritis, these tips will help.

Adopt a supportive Seating Position

  • Adjust your car seat to a comfortable position that provides adequate lumbar support. 
  • Consider using a seat cushion or back support device designed specifically for back pain relief. The SNUGL lumbar support is designed to fit cars, too.
  • Avoid slouching or leaning forward while driving, as it can strain your back. Maintain an upright posture and use the headrest for support [7].

Take Frequent Breaks

  • Take regular breaks every hour or two to stretch and move around. Sitting for prolonged periods can worsen back pain.
  • During breaks, I recommend that you perform gentle stretching exercises for your back, neck, and legs. These can help relieve tension and improve blood circulation.
  • Use rest areas or petrol stations to take short walks, allowing your muscles to relax and loosen up.

Use a Proper Lifting Technique

  • When loading or unloading your vehicle, use proper lifting techniques to avoid straining your back. Bend your knees, keep your back straight, and lift with your legs.
  • If you need to carry heavy luggage, use a rolling suitcase or ask for assistance to minimise the strain on your back.
  • Distribute the weight of your belongings evenly in your vehicle to prevent imbalances that could affect your posture.

Regulate Your Temperature

  • Extreme temperatures can worsen back pain. Maintain a comfortable temperature in your vehicle by using climate control or dressing in layers that can be adjusted according to your comfort level.
  • If you experience muscle spasms, try applying a cold pack wrapped in a thin cloth to the affected area for 15-20 minutes to reduce inflammation and numb the pain.

Install Cushion Support

  • If you’ve got a sensitive back, consider using a cushion or pillow to provide additional support and reduce pressure points. Memory foam or gel cushions can help distribute your body weight more evenly.
  • Place a cushion or rolled-up towel behind your lower back for extra lumbar support.
  • If your vehicle's suspension is too stiff, use seat pillows such as the SNUGL coccyx cushion or padded covers to absorb vibrations and minimise the impact on your spine [8].

Add Other Ergonomic Accessories

  • Invest in ergonomic accessories such as a steering wheel cover with a larger grip or a padded gear shift to reduce strain on your hands and arms while driving.
  • Use a hands-free device or Bluetooth for phone calls to avoid straining your neck and upper back. not to mention avoiding the increased risk of an accident that comes with holding a phone if you're the driver.
  • If your vehicle lacks cruise control, take regular breaks to give your leg muscles a rest from maintaining constant pressure on the pedals [9].

Do Gentle Exercises

  • Perform simple exercises before and after your journey to warm up and cool down your muscles. This can help prevent stiffness and reduce the risk of back pain.
  • Stretch your neck, shoulders, and back by gently rolling your head, shrugging your shoulders, and bending forward and backwards.
  • While seated, rotate your ankles, flex and extend your feet, and perform gentle pelvic tilts to keep your muscles active and prevent stiffness.

Wear Supportive Footwear

  • Wear comfortable shoes that provide proper arch support and cushioning. This can help maintain good posture and reduce stress on your lower back.
  • Avoid high heels or shoes with thin soles, as they can alter your gait and strain your back.
  • Consider using orthotic inserts or insoles to provide additional support and shock absorption [8].

Use Travel Pillows

  • If you’ve got a long journey ahead, bring a travel pillow to support your neck and head while resting or sleeping in the car.
  • Choose a pillow that supports your neck like firm memory foam. Make sure to get the right size if your neck is smaller or larger. 
  • Position the pillow to maintain a neutral spine alignment and avoid straining your neck.
  • Make sure to wear your travel pillow the right way by checking out my guide co-authored with travel guru, Bryan Shelmon.

Reduce Stress

  • Stress can exacerbate back pain, so try to keep a relaxed and positive mindset during your road trip.
  • Practise deep breathing exercises or listen to calming music to help reduce stress levels.
  • Engage in activities that bring you joy, such as listening to audiobooks, and podcasts, or engaging in stimulating conversations with your travel companions.

The Bottom Line: A Doctor's Advice

As a doctor, I understand the challenges that people with back pain face when it comes to travelling.

Over the years, I’ve seen numerous patients whose back pain was either caused or aggravated by their road and air travel.

However, I want to assure you that with the right strategies and precautions, travelling with back pain can be made more comfortable and enjoyable.

It's important to remember that each case of back pain is unique and personalised care is crucial.

I always recommend consulting with your healthcare provider before embarking on any journey if you’ve got serious back pain.

They can perform in-person evaluations and possibly prescribe medications or therapies to manage your symptoms during travel.

That said, by following my tips and recommendations, based on my clinical experience, you can make your journeys more comfortable.

Remember, your health and well-being are paramount, so prioritise self-care and travel with comfort.

Safe travels!

References:

1. Stay Sure. Tips for Travelling with Sciatica or a Slipped Disc. https://www.staysure.co.uk/discover/travelling-with-sciatica/

2. Spine Health. 3 Pointers for Traveling With Sciatica. https://www.spine-health.com/blog/3-pointers-traveling-sciatica

3. Worcester Chiropractic Clinic. Tips for Flying if you have a Bad Back. https://www.worcester-chiro.co.uk/articles/back-pain/tips-for-flying-if-you-have-a-bad-back/

4. Spine Institute of North America. How to Comfortably Travel With Back Pain. https://spineina.com/blog/comfortable-travel-with-back-pain/

5. Spine Health. 9 Quick Back Pain Tips for Airplane Rides. https://www.spine-health.com/blog/9-quick-back-pain-tips-airplane-rides

6. WebMD. Tips for Traveling When You Have Back Pain. https://www.webmd.com/back-pain/ss/slideshow-backpain-travel-tips

7. Spine Institute of North America. Best Ways To Prevent Back Pain While You’re Driving. https://spineina.com/blog/prevent-back-pain-while-driving/

8. Spine Health. 7 Tips to Alleviate Back Pain on Your Road Trips. https://www.spine-health.com/blog/7-tips-alleviate-back-pain-your-road-trips

9. Center For Spine And Orthopedics. 7 Tips to Alleviate Back Pain on Your Road Trips. https://centerforspineandortho.com/news/7-tips-to-alleviate-back-pain-on-your-road-trips/