7 Easy Ways To Reduce Your Risk Of Back Pain When Travelling



Reduce Your Risk Of Back Pain When Travelling


An amazing one billion people (out of 6 billion in the world) flew by airplane last year. And out of those 1 billion people, 300 million flew to completely different countries. We are travelling more, and further, than ever in human history. The world is simply becoming much more accessible, and as travel becomes an ever-increasing part of our lives, it is also increasing the amount of stress and strain on our spines that is associated with long hours of sitting, different beds, and handling heavy luggage.

8C00630834Travel places stress on the spine for various reasons. These include uncomfortable seats, sitting in small, cramped positions for long periods of time, carrying heavy suitcases and sleeping in foreign beds with strange pillows. Since recent publicity has highlighted the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), airlines are now encouraging passengers to do gentle mobility exercises to reduce the risk. This is excellent, well meaning advice for when you are flying, however, other precautions can also be employed to help ease the stress on our bodies associated with air travel.



Here are 7 easy to follow tips that will reduce your risk of back pain when travelling:

Plan your flights. For long intercontinental flights, try and pick an evening departure time. You will already be quite tired and have a better chance of a good long sleep, making it a ‘shorter’ trip. Once you reach your destination, immediately switch to local time and stay awake until normal bedtime. You will be really tired and get a good night sleep. This will ease jet lag.

Book ahead. Seats are very cramped in economy class, especially if you are tall. So a few days before travel try to organise an exit row seat. (Good Luck!). Otherwise try to get an aisle seat on long flights, as it is easier to get up when you want (especially to go to the toilet) and to move around freely.

Maintain good spine support. Older planes tend to be worst offenders for unsupportive seats. This can be helped by placing an airline pillow in the sway of your lower back, around your belt line, providing extra support for your lumbar curve. Modern planes fortunately have folding headrest supports that are built into the seat. These provide good support for the neck and should be utilised whether you are sleeping or not. If they are not provided, travel pillows provide excellent neck support for sleeping when travelling.

Move around. With individual in flight entertainment systems, passengers tend to sit and watch them for longer periods, further reducing movement. Make sure you get up, stretch and move around the plane frequently (but not when the seat belt sign is illuminated!)

Keep hydrated. Drinking extra water, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and the use of a skin moisturiser will all help to make you feel better during and after your flight.

Avoid wearing tight shoes and socks. Your legs swell during flights due to the pressurisation of the airplane cabin. Tight shoes or socks can restrict blood flow returning to the heart. However the use of approved compression stockings can be very beneficial in promoting good blood flow and lowering the risk of DVT, particularly on longer flights.

Take care when lifting. Be careful when lifting luggage off the baggage carousel, particularly after long flights when your back might not be ‘warmed up’. Where possible, use luggage with wheels.


Travel, particularly long flights, can be very tedious and exhausting. Most of us just sit and wait it out, without giving due consideration to their backs and bodies. Take on board (pun intended!) these 7 simple tricks to reduce the amount of stress and strain on your spine during your time in transit. They will help you to arrive feeling a bit more like you are ready to hit the ground running!

If you have any questions, or would like to share your own experience, please leave us a comment below.

Also, if you have found this article helpful, please share it so we can help even more people! Thankyou.







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  1. Thanks Dr. Brad,
    Your advice for flight travel is wonderful. It has been many years since I have traveled and I remember having back pain after the flight. The trip would have been better if I was not aching the whole time. It took weeks of adjustments from the chiropractor until I felt better. I could have save myself a great deal of pain and money if I knew your tips before the trip.
    Thanks for your help.

  2. Excellent tips here. I herniated two discs in my back and had to have emergency surgery when I was younger, and I always have trouble traveling now. Whenever I have to travel a long while I always need to adjust my position or i’ll start getting pain down my leg almost to my toes. I think the staying away on local time is a great tip. I’ll be traveling to Asia this summer, and I know it always help to force myself to stay up until night so I don’t have as bad jet lag. Thanks for the tips!

    • HI Pete,

      It is unfortunate that you had to have surgery so young. The tips here are still massively helpful, perhaps even more so, to avoid back pain when you are travelling. Check out our Total Back Pain Solution to improve your spinal health for life!

      Dr Brad

  3. As a long time sufferer of back pain and join injuries such as knees, I have had to pay extra for better seats and as always need to take care of my body as I get older.
    These are actually some great tips and I will use most of them now as I fly 4-5 times a year.
    These also work really well for my knees too, just moving around and making sure not to sit for an entire 10 hour flight or something.

    Great Ideas..

    • Hi Dan,

      You really need to make an effort to get up on those long haul flights. In flight entertainment has come a long way on modern planes, and it easy to get caught up in a good movie marathon!

      Be sure to drink lots of water as well.

      Dr Brad

  4. Very useful info. Having suffered from back injuries in the past, I would have never associated plane travel as having anything to do with spine injuries. But the way you lay it out it is very evident that it could have quite a lot to do with it. Very good info on the ways of avoiding it.
    Thank you for sharing.

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