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Top tips for keeping pain free whilst travelling this summer

July 27th 2023

Travelling can be an incredible adventure whether you’re taking a road trip across the UK or flying to a foreign destination. However, travel will often involve long periods of sitting, standing in queues, or carrying heavy luggage which can all take a toll on your body in particular your muscular skeletal system. Neglecting your spine and muscles during travel can lead to stiffness, pain and potentially long-term issues if not addressed. With a few simple precautions alongside mindful practices, you can keep your body happy and healthy whilst enjoying your holiday. In this article I will give you my top 5 tips to maintain a mobile muscular skeletal system whilst travelling.

1. Pack Smart and Travel Light

One of the most important things you can do for your spine whilst travelling is to pack sensibly, and not overload your luggage. Try to remember that you could be lifting your bags awkwardly, in and out of transport, and up and down flights of stairs. Heavy backpacks or suitcases will place strain on your back and shoulders, whilst causing unnecessary stress on the muscles and joints of the spine.

Remember to always bend from the knees when lifting bags off of the floor, whilst bracing your core muscles to reduce any risk of irritating your back. Pack only the essentials and invest in lightweight luggage with wheels, or backpacks, that evenly distribute the weight across your body. If you are required to walk long distances with heavy bags, try to give yourself plenty of time, in order for you to take regular stopping breaks to rest and stretch. 

2. Ensure to pack any ergonomic accessories/devices:

If you are currently using an orthopaedic pillow when sleeping at home, the last thing you want to do is to undo all the good work by sleeping on an unsupportive hotel pillow! Many good quality pillow manufacturers offer travel size pillows which can easily be stored in luggage. Consider purchasing a neck pillow that provides adequate support during long flights, or car journeys, especially if you are planning to sleep whilst sitting upright.

An inflatable back cushion or lumbar roll can also provide additional support, and help maintain proper posture while sitting for extended periods. If you will be using a tablet/ laptop during your travels then, similarly to your home desk set up, try to use a device raiser which will prevent prolonged slouching and rounding of your shoulders, leading to pain and stiffness in your upper back.

Be mindful with your choice of footwear whilst on holiday. It is common to opt for flip flops in hot weather, however you need to ensure that the ones you choose have a good level of arch support and strapping, so they are well secured to your feet to prevent any slippage. Basic flip flops, which don’t provide any support will place stress through your arch, metatarsals, and will require over activation of your toe muscles whilst walking. This will increase your risk of developing pain anywhere from your foot up to into your lower back.

3. Practice good posture and stretch where possible:

Maintaining good posture is crucial, especially when travelling. Whether you’re sitting on a plane, bus, or train, ensure that your back is properly aligned against the seat. Sit with your back straight, shoulders relaxed, and avoid slouching or hunching forward. If necessary, use a rolled-up jumper or towel to support the natural curve of your lower back. Where possible take regular breaks and stretch. Sitting in cars, trains or airplanes for prolonged periods can stiffen your muscles and strain your spine.

Simple stretching exercises can help relieve tension in your back, neck, and legs. Stand up, walk around, and perform gentle stretches to keep your muscles active, promote blood circulation, and prevent any prolonged pressure on your nerves. Here are some good stretches you can do even whilst seated:

Neck (Repeat each movement 10x)

Mid back (Repeat both sides 10x)

Lower back (Hold stretch both sides for 20 seconds)

4. Stay hydrated and eat well:

Staying hydrated is essential for maintaining the health of your body as a whole; it is particularly beneficial for keeping the discs in your spine healthy and mobile. The spinal discs are responsible for shock absorption when your body is under loads, such as when walking, running, or taking your suitcase in, and out of the car. They are also vital for smooth movement of your spine such as bending over to tie your shoelaces.

Injury to your spinal discs can cause significant pain and will highly likely put a dampener on your holiday! Particularly if you are heading to hotter climates then it is essential that you drink plenty of water to keep your discs properly hydrated. It is inevitable, when you are on holiday, that you will indulge in alcohol and some ‘naughty’ foods and this is totally acceptable. However, wherever possible try to balance this out with plenty of water, good quality proteins, fruit and vegetables.

Sugar and carbohydrate rich foods are high in inflammatory markers, so you want to try and limit these, as too much of them can increase the risk of developing joint and muscle pain. Additionally, maintaining a balanced diet rich in nutrients can support bone health and overall spinal well-being.

5. See your chiropractor and sports therapist before and after you travel:

 This is extremely important as you are about to experience a change to your regular routine. For example, you will be sitting for long periods whilst travelling, sleeping in different beds, laying on sun loungers or potentially walking more whilst exploring your destination. All of the above can place unwanted stress on your body if you are not used to doing them! 

The sooner you get your spine adjusted and your muscles working, the quicker your body will be functioning at its optimum so you can enjoy your trip without worrying about any aches and pains. The same applies for when you return from your trip. Getting treatment as soon as you get back will help rebalance you and get you back on track.

Conclusion: Remember that taking care of your body whilst travelling is crucial to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable journey, whilst reducing any risk of pain and discomfort, when you should be enjoying yourself. A healthy spine leads to a happier travel experience, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the wonders of the world. So, take care of your back and embark on your next adventure with confidence!

Happy Travels

Adam Harrison

Sports Therapist