Traveling: A real pain in the neck

| Health Columnist

When finals are done and papers are handed in, whether you are headed home or to St. Barths for winter break, chances are you are doing it with a smile on your face. That is, until pain strikes. For many travelers, the process can be a real pain in the neck—both figuratively and literally. Between lifting luggage bags and sitting in one place for long hours, traveling can take a toll on the body and leave you feeling achy and uncomfortable once you reach your destination. To avoid tightness in back and shoulders, I have compiled a list of the top five tips from the experts.

First and foremost, experts recommend that you pack lightly. Trust me, I’m just as likely as the next girl to bring home seven pairs of shoes and five pairs of jeans for winter break. The truth is, the odds of you needing every sweater in your closet are slim to none, and the few pounds it may save you in your luggage can really help you later.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking—one, I absolutely cannot remove any of my outfits from the packing list, and two, that is so unnecessary, I have a wheely-bag! The truth is, even wheeling a bag works your biceps and triceps and because of the awkward angle at which we usually pull a bag behind us, bags on wheels can end up doing almost as much damage as a shoulder bag would. Plus, the fact that we are more likely to stuff the bag to the brim only makes matters worse.

Second, whatever luggage you do bring, be sure to try to lift it in stages. Your laptop bag, clothes and ski equipment don’t all have to go from the cab to the check-in counter at the same time. See if there is anyone around to help, or make multiple trips. Trust me, your back will thank you tomorrow.

Third, back support for long car rides or planes is a must. These can be in the form of lower lumbar support pillows or neck pillows—which are available at most home stores and can even be purchased at most airport shops. Neither is costly, but both have proven extremely effective in preventing strain on the neck, shoulders and back. If purchasing a pillow is not an option, a rolled up sweatshirt or jacket can serve as a lumbar support cushion, wedging itself between your back and the chair. While the body is ordinarily using lots of muscles to assist in keeping a seated posture, adding cushioning allows it to relax fully, easing the tension in the muscle groups of the back.

Fourth, try to move and stretch as frequently as possible. Most of the post-travel-day discomfort we feel is just from being seated in one place for too long. If you are driving, stop every now and then at rest stops, get out, stretch your legs, get a drink and get back in. If airborne, a quick trip to the bathroom could save you hours of discomfort. Movement stimulates blood flow, which brings nutrients and oxygen to the muscles. This increase in blood flow prevents muscles from stiffening. Stretches for hamstrings (seated or standing toe-touches) or the hip flexors (one foot in front, the other foot in back, lunging forward) are most effective at preventing a tight back, as these are the muscles that meet the lower back muscles. When the hamstrings or hip flexors are tight, the lower back is tight too.

And finally, sit up straight! This is both the easiest and most difficult piece of advice yet. Most of us do not sit up properly, choosing to recline or slouch into “more comfortable” positions. The truth is, contrary to popular thought, the most “comfortable” seated position for your body is sitting straight up, with the back directly perpendicular to the seat. Head back, both feet resting on the floor or a footrest and sitting up straight will most definitely alleviate any neck or back pain you may be having.

Get ready to sit back, relax and enjoy winter break! Happy travels!

Information for this article was gathered from: http://www.spine-health.com/wellness/ergonomics/pain-free-travel-tips and http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/alerts/back_pain_osteoporosis/JohnsHopkinsBackPainOsteoporosisHealthAlert_2673-1.html