Tips for pain-free travel

with advice from Michael Beauvais, PT

Tips for pain-free travel

As we get deeper into the summer and the July 4 holiday approaches, many of us are packing up the car or boarding a plane for a summer getaway. If you’d like to get to your destination without a sore back or stiff muscles, try these simple tips to improve how you feel upon arrival.

  1. Try not to overpack.Try not to overpack.

When selecting what you’re taking, remember that the more you put into your bag, the more you’ll have to lift — in and out of the car, into an overhead compartment, etc. A heavy bag can quickly lead to a strained muscle. It’s better to take a couple of smaller bags than one overly heavy bag. And if you’re going on an extended trip, think about shipping some of your items ahead.

  1. Sit correctly.

Regardless of how you’re getting there (via plane, train or automobile), you’ll probably be sitting for a while. Be sure to sit with a straight back while retaining the natural curves of your back. Think about adding lumbar support with a pillow or rolled up towel. (If you forget until you’re on the plane, ask for a blanket to roll up.) It’s important to support the neck in the same way, adds Michael Beauvais, PT, the clinical director and co-owner of East Metro Physical Therapy (a Physiquality network member in Clinton Township, Michigan). He recommends the u-shaped pillows often seen in airport stores as a way to support the neck and take a short nap.

  1. Move frequently.

Besides improving your comfort and reducing stiffness, frequent movement can reduce your risk of deep vein thrombosis. If traveling by plane or train, try to get up and walk every hour, or do some exercises to improve your circulation, like these recommended by Physiofit Physical Therapy and Wellness, a Physiquality member in Los Altos, California. If you’re driving, be sure to stop every few hours to get out of the car, stretch and move around. And when you’re not in the driver’s seat, think about varying your leg positions to increase circulation.

  1. Eat properly and hydrate!Eat properly and hydrate!

While your primary goal on a road trip may be making good time, it’s important to stop for meals and make sure you drink plenty of fluids. (How much is enough to stay hydrated? Take a look at our post on hydration from a few months ago.) This is especially true if you’re flying, as the changes in air pressure and altitude can make you dehydrated.

  1. Take care of your body before and after travel.

Michael recommends stretching your back and legs before and after your trip — these lumbar extension exercises will help to loosen up any stiffness felt in the lower back after sitting for a long period of time. And think about packing an empty plastic bag in your luggage; you can fill it with ice and wrap it with a towel to make an ice pack for your back or other sore joints once you get to the hotel.

  1. Plan for vacation activities when packing.

Most trips will involve walking, from hiking nature trails to strolling around museums. Think about packing a cane to ease the strain, or perhaps a set of walking poles for help on the trails. Be sure to take shoes with arch support that will allow you to be on your feet for several hours at a time. You can always buy inserts if you have a pair of shoes that match that special outfit but need some extra cushion.

  1. Have fun!Have fun!

Most all, relax — if you stress out about the trip, it will stiffen your muscles, leading to aches and pains. If you know that you’re usually uncomfortable after traveling, try to pad your trip so that you don’t have any activities on the day of your arrival, allowing you to check into the hotel, take a hot bath, ice your back, and recuperate from the car or plane. You’ll wake up the next morning ready to explore your destination!

Keep in mind that if you feel pain for more than a few hours after sitting for an extended period of time, or any sharp or intense pain, you should seek treatment immediately. Click here to find a Physiquality physical therapist near you.

Michael Beauvais, PT Michael Beauvais, PT, is a physical therapist and the clinical director and co-owner of East Metro Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network member in Clinton Township, Michigan. Michael’s interests include spine and extremity care, manual therapy, arthritis rehabilitation, strength and conditioning, and golf biomechanics. He is a member of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists.
Physiofit Physical Therapy and Wellness PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness is a Physiquality network clinic that services the South Bay area in Northern California. In addition to their clinical physical therapy services, they offer a variety of fitness and wellness programs, including Pilates, gyrotonics, TRX, massage and personal training.


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For further reading:

James, Kevin. Planes, trains and automobiles: Summer traveling without the back pain. Advanced Spine Solutions, May 15, 2013.

The hydration game. Physiquality, March 15, 2013.

Fritscher, Lisa. Back pain while traveling. USA Today.

Dealing with lower back pain. Physiquality, September 20, 2012.

Travel without injury. WebMD, May 2012.

Lumbar extension exercises. Orthopaedic Specialists of North Carolina.

Physiofit PT.

Miller, Ron. Pain-free travel tips. Spine-Health.com, December 6, 2005.



The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.