During all the excitement that comes with traveling adventures, it’s important to care for your body. There’s nothing like neck pain or low back pain to put a damper on a fun trip, or to create a difficult distraction while traveling for work.
As a physical therapist, I often hear from patients that they want to be able to complete long road trips or airline travel without hurting. At Therapeutic Associates in Boise, we regularly see people who come in seeking care for pain that started during or after a long drive to Seattle or Portland, or a long flight across the country or to international destinations. Not only do they report pain in the back, neck, hips and gluts, but often just feel stiff and achy all over.
Utilizing proven physical therapy methods, our PTs work with patients to reduce pain and improve function, creating customized care plans based on each person’s unique story and goals. Additionally, we are passionate about educating patients and providing self-help methods so that recurrences are less likely. When it comes to long-distance travel, these are the top 5 tips I recommend to my patients, and that I use myself.
Whether you are on a plane or on the road, taking a walk for even a minute every 1-2 hours can help your body. Sitting for prolonged periods is not good for the body, and a good way to think about it is “sitting is the new smoking.” On a road trip you may be tempted to just power through to your destination. You might get there earlier without breaks, but at what expense? You will arrive more refreshed, less achy and pain-free by simply adding a few quick stops along the way. Even pulling over to walk around the car 2-3 times can help. On a plane, walking the aisle every 1-2 hours on long flights is a great idea.
Make good use of your time and get some exercise in during layovers and when waiting for your flight by walking around the terminal. To get more steps in, avoid the “people-mover” escalators and moving walkways and instead use the stairs and walk on your own parallel to the moving walkways.
In between walking sessions, you can get other exercise in even while sitting. Starting at your feet, tighten your toes and arches without moving, and hold for 3-5 seconds. Next tighten your calf muscles, then your thighs, then your gluts. Repeat 5-10 times every hour. For some movement, try pumping your ankles, straightening and bending your knees, and do neck and shoulder rolls. Aim for 10 repetitions of each move every hour. For Jedi-level traveler muscle work, engage your pelvic floor (Kegels). Imagine holding in your bladder at about 10-20% effort, and hold for 1-2 seconds, then relax for 5 seconds. Repeat Kegels every hour.
Compression socks are a great way to combat swelling in the legs from long periods sitting, and as a result may help you feel better at the end of the trip. I use them whenever I fly more than 3 hours, and many of the pilots I treat tell me they use them for their long flights as well. The compression of the socks may help the lymphatic system return more fluid toward the heart. There is also evidence they may reduce the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), or blood clots in the legs.
Travel food isn’t known for including the healthiest choices. Reach for fresh fruits and vegetables whenever that option is present. Remember to stay hydrated during your trip to keep your body fresh. This means cutting back or eliminating the alcoholic drinks on flights too. Many people will either consciously or subconsciously limit their fluid intake to reduce their trips to the bathroom, and this could be a sign of a pelvic floor muscle dysfunction (which is something many of our Therapeutic Associates Physical Therapy clinics can help treat!)
Remember that if you’re suffering with neck or back pain or are having other aches and pains and you are limiting your activities in life (including travel) due to how your body is feeling, there’s a physical therapist who can help you.
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