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  • Writer's pictureDr Travis Horne


More than one-third of Americans travels during the holiday season, from right before Thanksgiving until after the official start of the New Year, leaving them susceptible to travel pain. The most common method of transportation is by car, followed by airplanes, with trains, buses, and cruise ships. The majority of Americans travel more than 50 miles away from home to see family and friends for the holiday. The common denominator with these forms of travel is you're likely to be sitting for the majority of the time. Sitting for long periods can mean back pain and body aches, so it's essential to learn tips for healthy travel.

While many people travel to see friends and family, it turns out that the most common form of travel during the holiday season is actually for vacation. It's said that during Christmas, just 43% of long-distance trips are to see family or friends. The last thing that anyone wants to experience is travel pain during a holiday trip.

No matter where you're going, or how you're planning on getting there, you're probably already anticipating the headaches of traveling — the long lines, traffic, time differences, and the business that comes with family get-togethers. Maybe you're already thinking about how tired you'll be after waking up early to catch a flight, wondering how you'll make the most of your trip if you experience jet lag, or dreading sleeping in those hotel beds. Or worse, on a pull-out couch in a family member's guest bedroom that's bound to lead to travel pain.

One thing is for sure. Holiday travel takes a toll on our bodies. We pack emergency travel kits with Band-Aids and aspirin, heartburn medication, and throat drops. But what about our backs, joints, and muscles? What should we bring for that? Knowing what to pack for healthy holiday travel is extremely important.

The Physical Toll That Traveling Takes on Our Bodies

Travel can take a toll on your back, and the last thing that anyone wants is to experience a travel pain. Unfortunately, most of us have come to expect and accept it. Crammed into tiny seats on airplanes, or in a crowded cars for hours on end, we expect to be achy and stiff by the end of the commute. What causes this pain? And how can we experience healthy holiday travel?

Preexisting Conditions

For travelers who already struggle with a preexisting condition, such as arthritis, bulging discs, sciatica, or fibromyalgia, or other bone, joint, and muscle disorders, the holidays can be tough. The idea of holiday travel pain may bring on intense feelings of dread. These are all conditions that can be aggravated by everyday activities such as exposure to cold weather, lifting heavy objects, sitting for long periods, and so on. All of these things can make holiday travel particularly unpleasant and painful.

Sitting for Extended Periods

Even if you don't have a preexisting condition, sitting for an extended period of time in a car, on a plane, bus, or train can have adverse effects on your body. When we sit for too long, our muscles become constricted, our blood flow decreases, and we stiffen up. We're more likely to sit with poor posture in a cramped space, and when we sit like that for too long, it can cause quite a bit of travel pain both during and after the trip.

Lifting Heavier Items More Frequently

When we travel during the holidays, we tend to lift heavier items more frequently than we would otherwise. Getting baggage in and out of the car and airplane, carrying large packages in and out of houses, and helping friends and family complete tasks around the house puts a strain on our bodies. If you're not careful, you can suffer from a slip and fall, a sprain or strain, or even worse, a broken bone.

Poor Sleeping Conditions

There's nothing like your own bed. When traveling during the holidays, people sleep in hotels or guest bedrooms on surfaces they're not accustomed to. Maybe you have a special pillow at home that is designed to support your neck, or perhaps you need a hard mattress or else your back hurts. When traveling, we often don't have these options available to us and we have to take what we can get. This can cause muscle tension, misalignment in the spine, and more. It's not unusual to wake up achy and to feel tired after sleeping in a different space.

Tips for Healthy Holiday Travel

Many people think the aches and pains that come with holiday travel are unavoidable, but fortunately that's not the case. You may not be able to escape the screaming baby next to you on the airplane, but you can take steps to ensure that your back stays in the best condition possible and maintain healthy travel habits.

Bring Back Support

Bringing back support may seem like the most simple answer, but it's not one that many people think of. There are lots of tools and accessories out there that promote good posture and can help alleviate the travel pain that comes with the holidays.

A lumbar support pillow is small and compact, so it's easy to take with you when you're on-the-go. It provides crucial support to your lower back, negating spinal compression during long-trips that often cause back pain. A lumbar support pillow will last you well beyond the holiday travel season; you can use it sitting at your desk at work, or for your everyday commute in your car.

A posture brace is another option for healthy traveling, especially for those who often find themselves slumped over in their seats. It's easy to take with you since you physically wear it on your back, offering support for your back and shoulder muscles. You can even wear it under your clothing, so no one will notice you're wearing it. If your problem is primarily your lower back, they make specialized braces for that area too.

Pack Smart and Be Careful With Baggage

According to a survey, nearly 55% of participants over pack for trips. You may not think this is related to back and travel pain, but lugging those bags around takes a toll on your body. The most common culprit? Shoes. Most Americans pack 2-3 pairs of shoes in addition to the ones they're wearing on their feet, which are a heavy item. Carrying and lifting that luggage puts a strain not only on your back, but also on your shoulders and knees, and can result in a painful trip. Be mindful of how much you're packing and make sure when lifting heavy bags that you do so carefully.

Get Up and Stretch Your Legs

No matter which method of transportation you've chosen to get to your destination, be sure to take a break once in a while, get up, and stretch your legs. You can walk the aisle of an airplane when the fasten seat belt sign is off, or pull over at a rest stop to get out of the car for just a few minutes. This helps improve blood flow to your muscles, preventing them from tensing up too much, and helps to decompress your spine. Even better, do some light stretching if you have the chance. It can even be done before you get in your car, or airplane. Remembering to stay in motion is essential for healthy holiday travel.

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated may seem insignificant, but it can make a huge difference in healthy travel. When the discs between your vertebra become dehydrated they fail to function correctly. This can affect their ability to provide a cushion between vertebra and prevent friction in your back. Dehydration can cause pain, inflammation, and even lead to herniated discs. Buying that expensive bottle of water at the airport might make you cringe, but it could save your back from a lot of travel pain.

Simple Stretches to Prevent and Alleviate Back Pain on Holiday Trips

Even if you don't have the chance to get up and walk around during your travel, there are simple stretches that you can do in your seat to help relieve and prevent travel pain.

The Seated Lateral Trunk Stretch

This stretch can be done anywhere, and it's quite simple. While seated, raise your right arm over your head and bend your torso to the left. You'll feel the stretch along your side. Hold this for 15-20 seconds and repeat three to five times on each side.

The Seated Hamstring Stretch

If you have the room, this is a great stretch to keep your leg muscles from tensing up during travel. Extend one leg as far as it can go with your heel on the floor and lean forward until you feel a stretch behind your knee and in your hamstring. The hamstring is one of the muscles in the back of your thigh between the knee and the hip. This is where you should feel the stretch.

Don't overdo it; just a slight stretch will do. Keep your back straight and hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds, repeat three to four times. Do this on each leg.

Child's Pose

Once you've reached your destination, it's a good idea to help decompress your spine to avoid travel pain that pops up later. One great way to do this is through Child's Pose. You'll need some space on the ground for this one, so make sure you're settled before you get started. Kneel on the ground, with your buttocks resting on your heels. Next, stretch your arms out in front of you. Start to lean forward until you feel the stretch in your lower back and hold the position for 15-20 seconds, repeating three to five times. Child's pose is a great stretch to do anytime you feel pain building in your lower back.

Seeking Chiropractic Care

If you're planning on leaving for a holiday trip and want to take preventative steps to avoid pain and maintain healthy travel habits, contact us to schedule an appointment for any adjustments you may need in advance. We have recommendations for the back tools and accessories you'll need for pain-free healthy holiday travel, so that you can be prepared for your holiday trip. If you've just gotten back from a vacation and are experiencing travel pain, give your Cranberry Township Chiropractor a call and we can help find a solution.

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