Traveling without Back & Neck Pain

February 10, 2017

It's something we all do. Travel. Whether we are seasoned travelers or only get on a plane when we absolutely have to, it can still be a harrowing experience. From cramped quarters on the plane to a hotel mattress and pillows that are never "what we're used to at home," traveling can be very stressful on your back and neck.


Muscle pain can actually start before you even arrive at the airport. It can start from the moment you dig your suitcase out of the back of your closet or basement. The motion of bending, twisting and pulling a suitcase will put some of the most bio-mechanical strain on your back. Our spine can move in three planes of motion. It can flex forward and extend backward, side-bend to the right or left and rotate to the right or left.


Every time we engage in one of these planes of motion we subject our back to increased pressure and forces that can result in musculoskeletal dysfunction and/or muscle spasms. The technique of reaching forward to pull a suitcase from the depths of your closet, even though it is empty, can be an issue because it is putting you spine into all three planes of motion at once. Even if it didn’t hurt at the time, it may lead to musculoskeletal restrictions that end up being a problem later on. Now that the suitcase is out, packing becomes that next possible cause of back pain.


Quite often that suitcase ends up on the floor with clothes spread out over the room. Again, the bending, twisting and reaching motions of moving your belongs into the suitcase will again put your back in a very susceptible position. There has been a trend toward using carry-on luggage lately, which does not allow for as much room to pack. This leads to over filled bags that are heavier and more difficult to lift, especially when trying to fit them into overhead compartments. After all that increased stress on your back, you then do the worst thing you can do for it and become immobile. You either sit in a plane, car or train for an extended period of timing allowing what every restrictions that are now present to kind of set in to place and start the process of over recruiting muscle to help compensate.


Finally, you will arrive at your destination and end up sleeping on a surface your body isn’t familiar with being on. Leading to more muscle recruitment in an attempt to compensate for all of the changes. The more these restrictions build up the greater the toll they take on your body and then you repeat the whole process when you head home.


Here are some tips that will help limit the amount of strain on your back while traveling:

  • Try and keep things in front of you while packing

  • Avoid bending, twisting and lifting

  • Try to not overpack your suitcase

  • Maintain core and extremity strength to decrease strain on your back

  • Stay as active as possible, including taking breaks from sitting