How to avoid back pain when flying

Aeroplane taking off

Anyone who is a frequent flyer will be quick to tell you that long-haul flights don’t do anything to help aches and pains, in fact they can aggravate them considerably. However, whether you get discomfort on a short business trip or when flying further afield, your flight doesn’t have to be a complete pain in the back!

Cramped leg room, uncomfortable and unsupportive seating, plus being confined to a small space (sometimes for a considerable length of time) are all the aspects of long-haul flights which people dread, even more so when you already suffer from back pain.

All these factors can contribute to lower back pain during and after a flight. Holding any position for an extended period of time leads to aches and pains, and can cause you to strain your muscles. This is only exacerbated when the position you’re in is a constricted space. For optimal musculoskeletal health, body requires your joints and muscles to go through their full range of motion throughout the day. This can be severely restricted on a plane.

Did you know…that according to a survey by Spine Universe, an overwhelming 88% of people report experiencing increased back or neck pain after a flight.[1]

Remember…if you are on a long-haul flight, it’s important to keep moving around to prevent muscles and joints from stiffening up. This will also reduce any risk of deep-vein thrombosis.

How to reduce the risk of back and neck pain before your flight:

  • Keep up a regular exercise and stretching regime, particularly in the week before your journey. This is to ensure your muscles are as relaxed as possible prior to your flight.
  • Pack lightly so you don’t have the added strain of carrying or lifting your luggage.
  • If you have a bad back or neck, make sure you bring some drug-free aids (i.e. pain-relieving gel) in your carry-on bag, ready to use if your aches and pain becomes really uncomfortable.

How to alleviate back pain during your flight:

  • Support your back and neck with small pillows or blanket throughout your flight. Try to keep your knees and hips levels whilst seated, as this helps to reduce the stress on your lower back.
  • There is a host of small in-flight exercises you can find online that show you how do keep your body moving.
  • When you can, walk up and down the aisles – use the spaces at the ends to stretch out your neck, back and legs. Although a Chiropractor will advocate getting up from your desk at work every 20 minutes or so, try get out of your seat every 45-60 minutes. Supplement this with in-chair stretches if you can. You may look slightly daft, but it’s a small price to pay for easing pain and discomfort!
  • Stay hydrated! Keep drinking water throughout your flight to avoid dehydration. The free alcohol may be tempting, but it will dehydrate your body even more, especially in a pressurised cabin. A dehydrated body can aggravate joint stiffness, making your journey even more uncomfortable. Plus, the added benefit of drinking more water will mean you’ll need to get up – and stretch – on your way to the loo!

[1] https://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/back-pain/effect-flying-back-neck-pain-survey-results

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