As a full time traveler, as many of you know, I’ve been in many uncomfortable plane rides, long winded and bumpy train and car excursions and so much more. Vacations are usually meant to be relaxing, but we all know that traveling can cause increased stress on the body, and ultimately be a pain in the neck (and spine)!
What many of you might not know about me is that I’ve lived a very long time with pretty severe scoliosis. I was diagnosed with an 80 degree spinal curvature and at age twelve had to have a spinal fusion insertion – a major back surgery. Despite experiencing sudden, unexpected pain and spasms, I do not let my disability stop me from taking part on adventures around the world!
With 80% of Americans suffering from back and spine pain, the thought of a long trip can be discouraging. Luckily, the pain associated with travel can be greatly reduced, and in many cases avoided. Today, I wanted to spotlight some handy information for other travelers who might be dealing with spinal pains or back injuries on the road. Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, an orthopedic back surgeon, offers these travel tips to help keep your spine comfortable and healthy while on the go:
- Check Your Posture: Sitting for prolonged periods can strain your back, and your positioning can make it even worse. To provide yourself with the most relief, make sure your back is aligned against the back of the seat and your headrest is supporting the middle of your head. Keep your shoulders straight and avoid rounding forward. Both feet should be firmly resting on the floor.
- Smart Preparation: Reduce the time spent standing in lines by planning ahead. Purchasing electronic tickets, acquire elite frequent flyer status, take advantage of digital electronic check-in by smart phone, and check your luggage curbside
- Travel Light: Resist the urge to over-pack and reduce the stress on your shoulders and spine. Choose a light suitcase with wheels and a handle for rolling
- Tilts: Tilting your seat backward, with a pillow behind your back in proper posture will lead to the efficient loading of your spine. Behind your neck rests are usually two foldable pads that can be adjusted close to your neck. This prevents sleeping with your neck in an awkward position
- It’s all in the legs: Keep your legs out in the extended position. The bent or flexed position leads to your leg veins being stagnant, and may lead to a blood clot. It is important to get up and walk, stretching the legs and arms at least once an hour
- Stretch: When all else fails keep moving! Simple stretches of the neck, shoulders, and back will help keep the blood flowing. Blood brings important nutrients and oxygen to the structures of the back. This helps to stimulate the soft tissues in your back and keeps them from stiffening, which can reduce aches. Even a few seconds of stretching and moving is better than not doing anything at all!
- Breathe: Place your hands on your abdominal area and feel your belly move as you inhale and exhale. Do this as many times a day as possible to improve your posture and overall spinal health.
- Intention: Realize that the trip itself is a destination to be planned and thoroughly enjoyed. Watch your intentions. “I have a gorgeous hour to listen to my music, my book, or chat with a friend” is a better intention than “Ugh, I’m a prisoner on this trip.”
- Best Hours: Face it! Some of our best hours of our lives are spent travelling. Be thoughtful about it. Choose a vehicle that is safe, ergonomic, comfortable and that you love. Upgrade to business class if possible (less expensive, booked 1 month early).
- See Opportunity in Delays: Expect delays. Look for the opportunities to read a book, or watch a movie and connect with your travel companion. Anger and frustration leads to shallow breathing, stiff muscles and pain.
Thank you so much Dr. Kenneth Hansraj for your tips! I know many of you will find this helpful as you depart on those long-distance flights around the world this summer.
On the forefront of spinal surgery, Dr. Kenneth K. Hansraj is a spinal and orthopedic surgeon specializing in cervical, thoracic and lumbar procedures for example laminectomies and spinal fusions. Dr. Hansraj believes in tailoring the operation to the patient using the latest spine technologies. Dr. Ken is the author of the internationally bestselling book, Keys to an Amazing Life: Secrets of the Cervical Spine, (January, 2013), which he was inspired to write based on this concept. Dr. Hansraj is also the author of Bloodless Spine Surgery: Pictures and Explanations. His goal with each of his books is to bring years of accumulated expert medical knowledge to the public at-large in an easy-to digest format and to help countless individuals with ongoing spinal and health issues.