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  • Writer's pictureTaruna Rijhwani

6 Tips To Prevent Back Pain In Long Haul Flights

Updated: Dec 26, 2019

Do you love to travel or fly frequently for work? Are long flights usually a source of your back and/or leg pain leaving you with popping pain killers at your vacation? The answer is usually yes for most of us but with the joys of traveling being so many & world turning into a smaller place, your back pain should not be the reason you miss out on that dream vacation.

Let’s start with understanding WHY long flights are usually a source of back pain. Being in a flight usually involves sitting for several hours starting from the time you get to the airport all the way to the time that your plane lands. The posture of sitting tends to get your lumbar spine structures into flexion and puts a lot of stress on your spinal ligaments and intervertebral discs. Your disk pressure is known to be the highest in the sitting position.

So here are some general tips that I usually recommend to my patients when they are boarding these long haul flights:

Tip No. 1

Using a Lumbar Roll while sitting helps you maintain lordosis in your spine which is a concave C-shaped curve that your lumbar spine should naturally have but loses it when sitting without adequate postural support. You can look into a Original Mckenzie Standard density or Early compliance Lumbar roll to carry with you in flights. If you do not want to spend money on a roll, try folding a jacket or towel and use it as a Lumbar Roll instead!

Also, here is a short video showing the correct use of Lumbar Roll in your car. The same concept applies to your flight seats.

Tip No. 2

Perform standing back extension stretches in standing every 2-3 hours in the aisle to give your spine a break from being in a sustained sitting position. Moving your spine in the opposite direction of sitting frequently gives your joints a much needed break. Make sure you go as far as you can when doing these stretches to get to the end range.

Tip No. 3

Perform the slouch overcorrect exercise 10-15 times every 2-3 hours in your seat if you cannot get to the aisle. The slouch overcorrect exercise moves your spine from flexion to extension and helps break the cycle of stiffness. The first image is the “slouch” position and the second image is the “overcorrect” position. Moving from slouch to overcorrect position several times helps get you some mobility in the spine even while in the seated position.

As you can see in the images, it is all about curves in the spine. Moving your lumbar spine or lower back from a convex curve as in 1st image to a concave curve as in 2nd image is the key to get that mobility.

Tip No. 4

Try to walk in the aisle a little bit every 2-3 hours to get your joints moving and blood flowing!

Tip No. 5

Do not bend forward directly from your spine to lift that heavy bag from the baggage claim after sitting for several hours. Remember, your spine is already feeling stiff and has spent several hours in flexion seated in that flight. When you pick up a heavy suitcase in that forward bent position especially after sitting for several hours, it puts additional loads on your already “stressed” spine and could make your back and/or leg hurt. Bend from your knees instead and try using your lower extremity muscles to lift that heavy weight. The 1st image is an example of an incorrect technique and the second one is an example of a good lifting technique.

When lifting your baggage, try to maintain that lordosis (Concave C-shaped curve) in your lumbar spine to prevent any injuries and minimise load on those structures. Your spinal muscles are very small muscles and are not designed to lift heavy weights; your leg muscles on the other hand like your quadriceps are larger muscles and hence can handle much heavier loads without difficulty.

Tip No. 6

Try doing at least few (5-6) reps of Prone press ups/Cobra poses as soon as you get to your destination to stretch out that spine to the end range in extension which is the opposite of that sitting or flexion position. Remember to go as far as you can to the end of your available range to get maximal stretch.

If you or anyone you know suffers from back pain or sciatica, consider getting a Mckenzie or MDT assessment today. Mckenzie Method is an evidence based system of assessment & treatment that uses repeated movements to understand the source of your symptoms & is recognized worldwide for conservative treatment of spinal pain.

For more questions give us a call at 571-308-8252 to talk to your Mckenzie Diplomate Physical Therapist or better yet schedule a Free Discovery Session!

We also know not everyone is ready to commit to regular physical therapy appointments, and that’s why we offer our Free Information Guide! This Guide is for people in our community who want really valuable, expert information about their Back Pain or Sciatica problems. We know it’s confusing out there with all of the information floating around on Google and Facebook, and this is a valuable first step towards getting some real answers for your problem.

PS – If you found this information helpful, please share this with a friend or on your Facebook feed.

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