Flying anywhere…I love it. The journey, the adventure, the anticipation of someplace new, I love everything about it, well, except maybe for the airplane ride itself. Sitting for a long time with someone who must elbow their way into my limited space or falls asleep with their head practically on my shoulder is not something I’m fond of. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen often. Trying to get comfy in those airlines seats and the body aches that come from prolonged sitting- now that’s something we are all familiar with. Whether it’s neck aches, stiff backs, achy shoulders or cramped legs from seats too deep and too high, now that qualifies as the “gotcha” part of the journey.
Many frequent flyers will agree that sitting on long flights, carrying heavy luggage, and poor seat support not only cause back pain and neck strain but can exacerbate pre-existing musculoskeletal problems. So, let’s get the excitement back into the travel by sharing ergonomic tips for your comfort and how to arrive at your destination feeling great and ready for fun.
Why should we be concerned about prolonged seating? Prolonged sitting is inevitable on an
airplane and that will increase the load on your spinal discs and the hip flexors become tight from constant elevated sitting, This can set up a domino effect which can cause spinal compression if the muscles are not stretched out. Dehydration combined with high cabin air pressure are yet additional red flags when it comes to the health of your back, as hydration is one of the keys to maintaining proper fluidity of your muscles and spinal discs and is necessary for shock absorption. In extreme cases, if you are prone to swelling in your legs, prolonged sitting on an airplane can also give rise to deep vein thrombosis (blood clot) as blood pools in your legs.
In short, whether you’re flying first-class or business class, sitting in a cramped position on a poorly ventilated airplane can wreak havoc on your body, not to mention traveling for long periods of time is equally demanding and exhausting. To protect the health of your back on flights and prevent the aggravation of pre-existing back conditions, here are some back pain prevention tips for frequent flyers:
- To lift heavy luggage, keep your knees bent, your back straight, and carry luggage close to
- Keep your carry-on light (pack essentials only) and use rolling suitcases
- Rent a cart/hire a porter to transport your luggage through the airport
- To keep spinal discs hydrated and reduce spinal decompression and stiffness, drink plenty of water before and during flights
- Avoid long periods of inactivity (and the resulting poor circulation and stiff muscles and joints) by getting up every 30 minutes to walk the aisles, go to the bathroom or stretch
- Simple exercises while seated get the blood pumping and help keep you alert ie ankle circles, roll the head slowly in both directions and open close the hands.
- When using your laptop computer on the plane, watch your wrist and head tilt posture and sit closer to the tray.
- To support your lower back and the natural curvature of your spine, bring a lumbar pillow or place the pillow or blanket provided by the airline at the small of your back
- Practice good sitting posture: Sit with your legs uncrossed, feet flat on the floor, shoulders relaxed, shoulders and hips in alignment, and thighs parallel to the ground
- If your seat is high, use a small bag as a footrest support or wear higher shoes ie clogs or something with a heel to encourage a healthy circulation flow
- If your legs tend to swell, wear special compression socks or stockings when you travel
- Use a travel pillow or the pillow provided by the airlines to support your neck
- If you are experiencing back or neck pain, apply a cold pack to the affected area
- While watching a movie on the overhead screen, adjust your headrest to avoid cranking your neck
The fact is that airline passenger seats are not ergonomically designed, which means they cannot be adjusted to suit your particular body frame or help you achieve proper sitting posture. However, back pain, neck pain, and frequent flyers do NOT have to go together. If your journey involves driving check out our ergonomics while driving post to maximize your travel comfort. By following these simple back pain prevention tips, both you and your back can enjoy a safe and healthy flight every time you take to the skies.
Karen Burke is the President and Founder of Kare Products. Karen has over 30 years of expertise creating ergonomic furniture that helps avoid injury and promotes health for all types of discomfort and body sizes.