How to Ease Neck and Back Pain From Travel

An hour or so into every car or plane ride, the side of my back starts aching, and that’s in part because bodies aren’t meant to stay stationary. “Movement is essential to keep blood flowing to your muscles and joints to help prevent stiffness and pain,” Ms. Louw explained. Ideally, you’ll want to stand up and walk around at least once every hour if you’re feeling pain, Dr. Kennedy advised. If you have trouble remembering to do this, set a timer or drink lots of water so you need frequent bathroom breaks, he suggested. (Dr. Venesy said she prefers aisle seats so she can get up regularly.)

As for how to sit, Ms. Louw said that sitting upright, or with a slight recline, is generally the best position for the spine. Dr. Venesy added that rolling up a sweatshirt or fleece and resting it behind your lower back could also provide pain-relieving lumbar support.

Stretching can also be useful. One good stretch to do while sitting is a spine twist, where you put both hands on one leg and gently twist your upper body in the same direction, then repeat on the other side, Dr. Venesy said. A good seated stretch for the low back and hips is a figure four stretch, where you rest your right heel on your left knee and lean forward, and vice versa, she added. Dr. Kennedy said that it may feel good to stand up and do a slight back bend, too. (If you’re in pain from standing for a long time, the opposite could ease your pain — leaning into a forward fold, he said.)

If you experience leg cramps while sitting, try pumping your ankles — alternately pointing and then flexing your feet — with your knees bent and extended, Ms. Louw suggested.

If you’re anything like me, you look down a lot during flights or as a car passenger — at your phone, a tablet or a book. But this position can cause neck pain, Dr. Kennedy said. It’s far better to bring things closer to eye level. Some airplanes now have devices that allow you to hang your phone or tablet on the back of the seat in front of you, he said, and you can also buy accessories that will do this for you (or even fashion one out of a sickness bag).

If you think you’ll doze off in the plane or car, you may also want to invest in a neck pillow. Dr. Kennedy prefers designs that are thinner in the back than on the sides, because they don’t pitch the head forward too much when you lean against the seat.

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