Your dates are set. The room is booked. Whether you’re traveling by plane or car, you still have one more thing to consider to make this trip relaxing and pain-free. Read our tips to help ensure your body is ready for the trip with these simple tips that help you avoid neck pain when you travel.
Most of us understand a great vacation takes research, a planned itinerary, and even some scheduled downtime so we can relax and recharge. But so many people avoid the most important part of the trip: taking care of their body so it can handle traveling on an adventure without developing new aches and pains.
Extended periods of sitting aren’t good for us. It’s natural to become stiff and have increased back and neck pain when we travel long distances. Add the excitement of a new location and the lack of sleep that often accompanies the days leading up to the trip, and it’s easy to understand why the body can feel weak. It’s undergoing stress. But, we can avoid general fatigue and common discomfort from neck pain and muscles aches with these simple but important tips.
TIPS TO REDUCE NECK PAIN BEFORE YOU TRAVEL
In the days leading up the trip, increase the amount of water you drink, take time to stretch and exercise, avoid salty, fatty foods, and schedule a visit to your chiropractor.
On the actual day of the flight, be sure to stretch and exercise before you get in the car or on the plane. The goal is to avoid dehydration, which makes our muscles stiff and sore, and to stay mobile and pain free before we even start to travel. In this way, you’re more likely to avoid neck pain and muscle aches from being forced to stay seated during the trip.
TIPS TO REDUCE NECK PAIN WHEN YOU TRAVEL BY CAR
Studies show we should not sit for longer than 30 minutes at one time without getting up to stretch and walk around. That may seem unrealistic when you travel, and you’re looking at a 12-hour road or inter-continental trip. However, 30 min provides a good measure of time for when we need to get out blood flowing and muscles moving.
We’ve added a few movements below that can be done when you travel and stop for a rest. A few of these exercises can even be done while you’re seated and can help ease tired muscles while you drive. These tips and movements will help prevent neck pain and fatigue.
Sitting Position: Be aware of body mechanics and ergonomics when you sit. Ideally, your knees would be positioned lower than your hips. This isn’t possible in most sedans, so you may want to invest in a seat cushion when you travel to elevate you as you sit.
Lumbar Support: We have a tendency when we travel long distances to slouch and roll our shoulders forward which can cause strain in our neck. Avoid lower back and neck pain when you travel by asking your chiropractor to recommend the best lumbar support for you.
Turning: Drivers are at risk for neck pain when they travel because they must constantly turn to the right and the left as they assess the road. But even a passenger is at risk for neck pain when they travel. One reason for this is that passengers often turn their neck to the left for long periods of time as they talk with the driver. Be aware of both how you turn and also how long you hold a single position.
Stretches: Elevating your hips and supporting your lower back are both crucial components to avoiding neck pain as you travel. But so is movement. Below are just a few exercises and stretches that can be done when you stop for a break—and one or two that can be done in the car.
- Sampson Stretch: this modified lunge engages your lower body muscles, while also easing the tension in your shoulders and neck. Stand straight with legs hip-width apart. Clasp your hands in front of you at shoulder height, with palms facing out. As you lower into a lunge, bring your arms overhead. Raise your chin for a gentle stretch in your neck and shoulders. Repeat on the other side. This full body stretch opens up tight hip flexors and relieves tired muscles that cause pain in the neck, shoulders, and back.
- Squat: It may surprise you that squats can help relieve back and neck pain when you travel, but it’s true. A squat is a foundational move that activates the muscles in your lower body, which improves circulation, gives your body a rush of energy, and helps relieve stress in muscles throughout the body.
- Sun salutation: This yoga sequence is a gentle, fluid full-body stretch and helps relieve tension in your neck, shoulders, back, hip flexors, and hamstrings. This sequence can be modified depending on your ability, so ask your chiropractor to recommend one that won’t cause additional stress on any weak areas of your spine.
- Back arch: If you have a towel or yoga mat in your car, lay it out when you stop at a rest area to get a few good arch stretches in before you get back on the road. Begin on your hands and knees, and then arch your back up in a cat stretch, and then down into a “saggy cow” U arch. Allow your chin to move in a gentle, natural flow in response to the arch in your back. These elongated stretches will help you avoid neck pain when you travel long distance by car.
- Shoulder rolls: Roll shoulders forward and back every few minutes as you drive. Once you stop, add arm circles to your shoulders rolls to relieve tension that causes neck and shoulder pain when you travel.
TIPS TO REDUCE NECK PAIN WHEN YOU TRAVEL BY PLANE
Traveling by plane can make your journey a lot shorter, so you may think it’s easier to avoid neck pain when you fly. The problem is, you have a lot less opportunity to move when flying, which could increase your neck pain. Your flying mantra should be hydrate your body and liberate yourself from confinement. Here’s how:
Drink water: Alcohol is not your friend on a long flight. Opt for water to keep your body hydrated, which helps avoid common muscles aches that cause back and neck pain when you travel.
Maximize your space: You may not want to pay for that bag to be checked, but it’s essential to keep the area under the seat in front of you clear, so your legs have room to stretch. Store your carry-on in the space above your seat, so you have as much room as possible on the flight.
Neck pillow: A neck pillow can provide good support and help reduce neck pain when you fly, but the wrong size pillow could do more harm than good. If the pillow is too small for your neck, it won’t give you the support you need and could even cause your vertebrae to compress because of the odd angle. If it’s too large, it may strain the muscles and prevent them from being able to fully relax when you’re in the seated position. This may not only cause neck pain but could increase pain in your shoulders and lower back. Ask your chiropractor for a recommendation for a neck pillow or other neck support when you travel.
Get up and move: Flight attendants frown on passengers using their work space as a personal gym, which is unfortunate since it provides the perfect amount of space to get in a few squats, shoulder shrugs, and wide arm circles, which help reduce neck pain when you travel. But to keep the cabin calm, work within public spaces without disrupting the nerves of other passengers.
- Every 30 min of your flight, get out of your seat and walk up and down the aisles for two minutes.
- As you walk, roll your shoulders forward and back to relieve your shoulder muscles.
- When you wait in line for the restroom, try to get in a few squats or knee raises.
- A few stretches can be done while seated, which will also help reduce neck pain as you travel:
- Roll your shoulders forward and back.
- Lift your chin to the ceiling to gently stretch the muscles in the front and back of the neck.
- Move your head to look to the right. Hold for a count of ten. Gently move your head to the left side. Hold for a count of ten.
- Clasp your hands in front of you, lift your arms overhead, inhale, and arch your back for a good long stretch.