Sitting for long periods in a car, bus, train, or airplane seat as you make your way to your preferred destination can place added stress on your lower back, weaken your core spine-supporting muscles, increase your risk of developing disc-related damage, and boost your odds of being affected by back or neck strains. However, you don’t have to put your travel plans on the back burner just to spare your spine. Here are six easy, spine-friendly stretches you can do while traveling. These stretches are fairly gentle, but it never hurts to check with your Los Angeles spine surgeon if you’re concerned about how much exercise you can safely do.
The purpose of side stretches is to loosen the spinal erectors and other muscles that directly or indirectly support your spine. Specifically, side stretches focus on the spine-supporting muscles that tend to be subjected to extra pressure when you sit. Take deep breaths as you do side stretches to increase circulation and get the most out of the experience.
For times when you’re out of your car or waiting in an airport terminal, do simple back bends to ease stress on your spine’s discs. If you have existing issues with herniated discs, back bends may also help them get back into their proper positions. When you do back bends, remember to:
• Place your hands on your lower back for support • Stop when you feel the stretch • Avoid overextending too far backward
You can even stretch spine-supporting muscles to some extent when you’re seated as you travel. Simply twist to one side until you feel the stretch and then turn the other way and do the same thing. Twist your arms at the same time to extend the stretch to your shoulders and upper back. Seated twists are a great option for times when you’re stopped at red lights or stuck in your airplane seat for a while.
Tense shoulder muscles can affect structures in your neck and upper back. Keep muscles, ligaments, and tendons around your shoulder joints relaxed and tension free by:
• Gently pulling your shoulders back • Pushing out your chest • Placing your arms behind your head as you interlock your fingers • Slowly moving your arms from behind your head and lifting them up • Moving your arms gently behind you as you take deep, relaxing breaths
Sitting for long periods while traveling can also take a toll on your neck and upper back muscles. Target cervical spine soft tissues by gently moving your neck from side to side or moving your head down so your chin touches your chest (or as far as what’s comfortable for you). Do neck stretches that stimulate this area from all angles.
One of the easiest ways to stretch your spine as you travel is to take advantage of opportunities to get up and walk. Even if you’re on a plane, you should be able to walk around when it’s not necessary to keep your seat belt on. While walking isn’t technically a “stretch,” it can get your blood flowing and provide gentle muscle stimulation.
If you still experience lingering discomfort when you get back home, visit your doctor or a spine specialist to get a better idea of what you’re dealing with. The good news is that most spine-related issues respond well to conservative treatments such as medication and physical therapy.
If your pain doesn’t go away or becomes severe, reach out to The Spine Institute. Dr. Bae and his team of expert surgeons specialize in minimally invasive surgery and innovative procedures such as spinal fusion surgery. Los Angeles residents who would like more information or want to schedule an in-person evaluation are urged to call our office today at 310-828-7757.