How to Put an End to Plane-Induced Back Pain

Stiff joints and muscles are common complaints for anyone deplaning a flight longer than a couple of hours. But with some mindful preparation, you can significantly reduce or even altogether avoid common flight discomfort. Check out these tips from Conde Nast Traveler and Talal W. Khan, M.D., director of pain management at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Keep your workout routine consistent, especially a week prior and leading up to your flight. The more warmed up and nimble your muscles are before the flight, the less likely you are to experience aches and back spasms. Look for stretches that specifically target the areas that tend to ache most. Many airport terminals now offer meditation and yoga rooms to stretch out before and between flights.

Pack lightly and use roller bags to avoid putting added stress on your body moments before the flight. Today luggage is becoming more lightweight and ergonomic than ever, and is a worthy investment. If light packing isn’t an option, consider asking a fellow passenger or flight attendant to help lift your bag into the overhead compartment.

“It’s not a bad strategy to take ibuprofen or Tylenol ahead of the flight to help prevent pain and inflammation,” Khan says. Just be sure you’ve packed your pain-reliever in an accessible pocket of your carry-on so it’s easily retrievable.

Place a pillow between your lower back (your lumbar region) and the back of the seat to prevent you from slouching and to maintain a natural lumbar curve. “Don’t forget about your neck: Carry a good neck support pillow, preferably one made of foam or small beads as opposed to the inflatable ones, which don’t tend to support your neck as well, and don’t contour to the shape of your neck as naturally,” Khan says.

Take advantage of bathroom breaks (and even your seatmate’s bathroom breaks) to get up and walk the aisle when possible. Even when seated, periodically stretch your calves and buttocks muscles, both of which can reduce the risk of blood clots.

Start hydrating days before your flight to prevent stiff muscles. “The environment in the cabin is very dry, and dehydration can make joint stiffness and back issues worse,” Khan advises. Conveniently, drinking more water before and during the flight may also increase your need to get up out of your seat to walk to the bathroom, further keeping your muscles in motion.

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