There’s a feeling in the air that begins around late November and grows into summer — the festive season is upon us. Months of hard work and stress dissolve in the soft warmth of the end of the year. It’s a reward, something so many Australians look forward to for months. There’s so much to enjoy. But often, a bit of travel is the final hurdle. And as many know too well, travel sometimes means pain.
It’s hardly surprising. Planes, trains and automobiles all mean hours in cramped seats, bending and twisting with heavy bags. This prolonged time in an uncomfortable position is the main culprit. But the related stress of being corralled through airports or organising a family road trip certainly don’t help.
We’ve compiled a list of tips from experts to get you where you need to be without any of the pain. These are especially effective when coupled with supplements that can also reduce inflammation. You’ve earned your summer holiday — follow these simple steps to make sure you get the relaxing break you deserve.
When possible, move!
The prolonged period cramped up in the small seats of planes, trains or cars can be hazardous for your spine and other joints, says chiropractor Dr. Wayne Gard. Dr Gard stresses that this damage can be done in as little as 90 minutes — it’s not just long-haul flights you need to be wary of.
Dr. Gard has three simple tips that all involve beneficial movement. Give these a try next time you’re travelling:
Try to stand up and walk around every 90 minutes for 5 minutes. This can make a huge difference.
Pelvic floor exercises while sitting. To do this, straighten your spine then gently suck your lower abdomen in for 30 seconds while still breathing.
Neck Turns — turn your neck fully one way and then hold for 10 seconds. Repeat the other way.
Simple accessories and breaks make a big difference
APA Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist and Founder of Evoker, Adam Monteith, reiterates that prolonged periods sitting down are a direct route to pain. This is especially true for people with existing issues with spinal-related pain, which is most common in the neck, between the shoulder blades, or the lower back.
Monteith says an important preventative measure is managing the load on your spine during long trips — unfortunately the disks in your lower back “hate sitting”, he says. “There’s simply more load through the lumbar disk when we sit than when we stand. Upper back or shoulder blade pain will also not like sudden increases in sitting, which is a rather fixed position for the upper back, they like movement! Necks also dislike long periods of sitting because of the inherent nature of humans to not engage their deep neck flexors, and thus sit in a ‘chin poked’ position.”
- Using a d-roll accessory that sits against your lower back - this compensates for one’s natural tendency to slouch and provides greater lower back support. Other accessories that can help are backballs, ITB rollers or even a bath towel rolled quite tightly.
- If you’re in a car, stop every hour and walk around which stretches your hip flexors — yes, your journey will take longer but if that means you enjoy your destination pain-free, it’s worth it. If you’re on a plane, try to book the aisle seat so you can get up and move more easily. Stand up and do some heel raises and hip flexor stretches — when the airline staff tell you to sit back down you’ve done enough!
Consider your destination
The journey isn’t the only cause of travel-related pain. So many of us spend our summer holidays near the beach or somewhere warm. Monteith cautions that pool tiles and floorboards — especially when wearing thongs — offer little support. If you have any niggles of the foot (Achilles tendon, plantar fascia, tib post tendon etc), more time spent on firm surfaces and away from your traditional supportive shoes can often see an exacerbation of these pains, he says. “Consider spending some time in footwear that’s a bit more supportive.” This also applies if you’re spending all day on the sand.
Finally, Montieth also recommends a BYO pillow strategy. “Different mattresses and pillows can most definitely have an impact on spinal pain,” says Monteith. While you can’t cart a mattress around Australia, bringing your own pillow can make a big difference.
Simple tips for a pain free break
The holidays should be the happiest time of the year. Don’t let pain get in the way of well-deserved time with your family and friends. By taking some simple steps like moving as much as possible during the journey as well as taking supplements that reduce inflammation, you can prevent an excruciating and distracting flare up.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
About the experts
Since founding Evoker in 2011, the studio has grown to encompass two premium clinics in the Sydney CBD with ten physiotherapists and over 10,000 clients.
About the author
Dr. Wayne Gard is a qualified Chiropractor, Naturopath, and Acupuncturist. He has been practising for 31 years and brings a wealth of experience to the TherapyWorks team. His approach to chiropractic is multimodal, meaning that he combines different techniques to offer patients better outcomes.