Protecting your back while traveling

Q: My job requires frequent traveling by airplane. What can I do to ease the stiffness and backaches after a long flight?

A: Prolonged sitting, especially in a confined airline seat is brutal on the body. The stiff and sore feeling after a flight results from awkward sitting positions and restricted blood flow says Dr. Scott Bautch, president of the American Chiropractic Association’s (ACA) Council on Occupational Health. Dr. Bautch offers a checklist of things to do before, during and after a flight to improve blood circulation to the lower legs and avoid the neck and back discomfort associated with traveling:

Exercise (e.g. brisk walking) to warm up your muscles and increase blood flow before boarding.

Tuck a pillow behind your back just above the belt line and lay another pillow across the gap between your neck and the headrest. Doing this relieves pressure on the back and neck by maintaining proper spinal curvatures. If the seat is sunken in from wear, sit on folded blankets to elevate your rear end a little.

Check bags heavier than 10% of your body weight. Overhead lifting should be avoided to protect the lower back and neck. If you must lift overhead, be sure your head is not turned to the side and don’t twist your back during the process.

When stowing belongings under the seat, sit in your seat first and then, using your hands and feet, gently guide your bags under the seat in front of you. Avoid awkwardly forcing objects under the seat with your legs, feet or arms while standing. This may trigger muscle strains or spasms in the upper thighs and lower back muscles.

While seated, vary your position occasionally to improve circulation and prevent leg cramps. Also, massage your legs and calves periodically and try moving your knees up and down to stimulate blood flow.

Adjust the air controls so air is not blowing directly on you. The draft can increase tension in your neck and shoulder muscles.

When you reach your destination, take a brisk walk to the baggage claim area. This will help stretch your hamstring and calf muscles. These muscles can stiffen considerably after prolonged sitting.