Between Thanksgiving tomorrow and more upcoming holidays toward the end of the year, a lot of travel will be happening all over the world in the next couple of months. Despite the excitement of seeing loved ones, it’s important to know how to protect your back from being strained during travel. “Orthopaedic surgeons see many patients with tense shoulders or pains that affect the neck and back around this time of year. In 2011, there were more than 59,000 luggage-related injuries seen in emergency departments, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. More than 43 percent of these mishaps were sprains and strains, and 44 percent affected the back.” (Source)
There are precautions you can take when traveling this holiday season. If you’re traveling by train or plane, for instance, and need to load suitcases in an overhead compartment, take a second to lift properly: keep your back straight, bend at the knees and lift with your legs, not your back. Every time you need to lift heavy luggage, make sure you carry it as close to your body as possible, distribute the weight evenly, and avoid twisting the lower back while carrying heavy bags.
During the travel itself, take note that seats generally don’t provide the best support for your lower back or neck muscles. Purchase a lumbar support pillow or roll up a jacket/sweater and put it behind your lower back for improvised, extra support. If it’s not too disruptive to your aisle-mate, during long flights/train/bus rides take the opportunity every 30–45 minutes to get up and walk around and stretch a bit. Staying sedentary in an uncomfortable seat for too long isn’t good for the vertebrae.
While driving, make sure you often check your posture. Take advantage of cruise control — it allows you to sit up straight with your head back and both feet on the ground. Your knees should be at a 90 degree angle. This is the optimal position to preserve your spine for long drives. If you stop for gas or snacks, be sure to stretch and take a short walk to stay active, alert, and stretch your back. I discussed some easy, short daily stretches in a previous blog post here.
Traveling for long distances normally means being sedentary in confined spaces for long periods of time. Be sure to take the proper precautions in order to prevent injuries to the spine. Safe travels this holiday season!