Flying With Back Pain: Protecting Your Spine While Traveling

April 17, 2019

Woman sleeps on plane while flying
Stephanie Dwilson

If you're flying with back pain, you'll need tips on how to make your travel more comfortable, whether you're traveling across oceans or the country. Unlike a car or train, when you're in a plane you can't just get off at a rest stop and take a break if you're traveling with back pain. But if you're 30,000 feet up in the air, you do still have options for making your journey easier on your lower back. Here are a few things that can help.

Seated Stretches and Exercises

Sitting in one place for a long period of time can cause muscle pain and joint stiffness. But if you can't get out of your seat, you can still do some exercises to help. These can include extending and straightening your knees and doing in-seat glute squeezes, NBC News suggests. Try to hold the stretches or muscle squeezes for 10 seconds for a mini-workout. You can also try ankle circle exercises, where you point your toes and then slowly rotate your foot in a full circle without moving your leg, Choice Chiropractic suggests.

There are also quite a few upper body stretches to try while you're seated. You can pull your arm across your body, stretch your triceps with your arms over your head or reach your arms over your head and stretch slightly back and forth. Just keep the movements small enough so that you don't accidentally hit the people sitting next to you. If you frequently have back pain, an aisle seat can make it much easier to do the stretches you need.

In the Aisle

Standing up in the aisle for a few minutes and doing some quick stretches can also help. Some travelers will take a quick walk to the restroom just to give their back a break. But others may need to do a little more than that. Before you try stretching in the aisle, make sure the seat belt sign isn't on and flight attendants aren't heading in your direction with a food or drink cart.

When you're doing quick standing stretches, try putting one foot in front of the other, bending your front foot toward your body and leaning forward to feel a stretch in your lower leg. Or try bending forward from the waist, keeping your lower back round and letting your arms hang. Put your hands on your knees to stretch your back, Men's Journal suggests. You can even try mini-yoga exercises in the aisle, Escape shares.

Pillows and Cushions

One thing that can really hurt you when you're flying with back pain is falling asleep and letting your neck twist into a weird position. You might also feel pain if your body contorts against the armrest awkwardly while you sleep. Bringing an ergonomic neck pillow that's TSA-friendly can help avoid these issues that can lead to stiff muscles and joints. Or you might want a lumbar pillow to put behind your back (a small towel can also work.) Most airlines let you bring one carry-on and one personal item (like a purse), and a pillow typically doesn't count against either quota, USA Today notes. Check with your airline to make sure.

While you're seated or napping on the plane, avoid crossing your legs and keep your knees and hips level to reduce stress. Putting a book under your feet may help raise your legs enough to get better alignment, Alberta Chiro suggests.

By planning ahead and using a little creativity, you can avoid a lot of extra backache while traveling with back pain.

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