Flying typically means sitting in a space where you have limitations on movement, not to mention being relegated to one seat as you get from point A to point B, so it’s easy to see why airplane rides can contribute to back pain or trigger flare-ups if you’re not careful. The good news is there are some steps you can take to minimize airplane-related back pain. Here are eight tips to keep in mind.
Before you even get on board, make an effort to strategically plan your flight. For instance, try to minimize downtime between connecting flights and layovers. Also, try to avoid excessively crowded and early flights, if possible.
You can also contact the airline directly to make some arrangements ahead of time. Most reputable airlines are willing to work with passengers who have back issues. This might involve:
• Providing assistive devices such as wheelchairs during the boarding process
• Having airline staff transport your luggage and store your carry-ons
• Arranging for elevator platforms for boarding or special shuttles if getting to the gate will require a long walk
• Allowing a nonmedical assistant to escort you
It’s not always easy to get prescriptions filled when you’re not near your regular pharmacy, so ask your doctor for medication refills before you leave to avoid this problem. Also, ask your doctor or Santa Monica spine surgeon to write a medical letter to present to the airline. This should make it easier for special accommodations to be made, such as giving you a seat that allows you recline to a flat position.
If you know you’re susceptible to pain flare-ups when your meds wear off, take your medications before getting on the plane. Do this about an hour or so before you’re scheduled to board to give your meds time to work.
Bonus Tip: Bring your meds in a plastic bag so they can be easily checked during the screening process, and let the flight attendants know you’re taking meds so they can monitor you if necessary.
Remaining in the same position for long periods isn’t good for the spine or its supporting soft tissues. Look for opportunities to get up and stretch or walk around to maintain your flexibility and minimize stiffness.
You’re not always going to be able to get up and move around on a plane. For times when you’re confined to your seat, find ways to support your spine. Options include:
• A lumbar support pillow or rolled-up towel to support your lower back
If you’re not mindful of your posture, you could end up with back or neck pain during or after your flight because you’re overstressing certain parts of your spine. Ideally, you want to:
• Keep your feet flat on the ground when sitting
• Make sure your knees are in line with your hips to ease lower back stress
• Request an aisle seat in advance if you have longer legs and you’ll need more room
• Avoid slouching or leaning excessively to one side or the other
To be prepared for the possibility of experiencing spine-related pain on your flight, bring a reusable ice pack with you and ask the flight attendant to fill it so you can apply it to the affected area to ease inflammation. You can apply heat with self-adhesive heat patches or heat wraps to boost circulation and help tissues heal.
Reminder: Avoid placing heat/ice directly on your skin unless the product you use is specially designed for this purpose.
Stress and anxiety can worsen back pain by making nerves more sensitive. If you know you’ll be on a long flight, minimize stress by getting some rest and finding ways to remain calm and relaxed. This could involve:
• Adjusting your seat as much as possible so you’re comfortable
• Reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to relaxing music
• Doing deep breathing or meditation techniques
Back pain that affects your ability to do everyday activities such as traveling can be treated in a variety of ways. At The Spine Institute, we specialize in minimally invasive fusion and non-fusion procedures, such as artificial disc replacement and spinal fusion alternatives. Santa Monica patients can rely on our team of spine health experts to determine the best way to prevent back pain and treat spine injuries related to everyday life. Call one of our friendly staff members today at 310-828-7757.