Spine-Safe Summer Travel

Simple strategies on your journey will keep back pain at bay when you reach your destination.

What do family road trips, flights to vacation destinations, and long afternoons spent on the golf course have in common? They’re all synonymous with summer—and they have travel elements that could cause problems for your spine.

After a long winter of being stuck indoors, most of us can’t wait to take a summer vacation and enjoy our favorite outdoor activities. But, failing to take some simple precautions during the journey can spoil the destination.

SpineUniverse reached out to Scott Bautch, DC, DACBOH, CCST, CCSP, past Chairman and CEO of Allied Health Chiropractic Centers in Wausau, WI, for his best tips to keep your back and neck healthy throughout the entire summer travel season.
Woman using a tablet for directions while walking on a city streetOn the Road
If renting a car is part of your vacation plan, Dr. Bautch recommends doing a bit of research and reflection beforehand. You don’t need to take the car that’s given to you by the rental car dealer—you can try a few cars out to find the one that is most comfortable for you.

“Know what kind of car and seat fits best for you,” he says. “We all have different sizes and shapes, so not one size fits all. In some cases, you’re in a rental car longer than your own car, so you need to know the type of car you want to get.”

If you don’t have a preferred car make or model, Dr. Bautch says you should try sitting in cars before selecting one to make sure the seat feels right for you.

“When you get into the car, know what you need in a seat and how it should fit you—you should have lumbar support, a well-positioned head rest, and make sure you sit straight,” Dr. Bautch says. “Then you need to know how to adjust the seat to you.”

If you’re unsure how to properly adjust the seat to your body, ask a representative at the dealership for help.

In the Air
With increased checked bag fees and wait times at baggage claim, it’s appealing to carry on as much luggage as possible. But, twisting your body to lift a heavy suitcase into an airplane’s overhead bin can be downright dangerous.

“If you’re lifting beyond your abilities, you’re putting your safety at risk,” Dr. Bautch says. “If you hurt yourself, it can be a life-long injury that costs more than the $50 to check your bag.”

To safely carry on your luggage, Dr. Bautch recommends keeping your suitcase under 25 pounds. Once you get over that weight, he says most people begin compensating their posture when lifting.

When you’re ready to lift your bag into the overhead bin, Dr. Bautch says you should lift in 2 steps.

“First, lift the bag from the floor and place it on the edge of seat,” he says. “Then, rest and square yourself. The second part of the lift is when you lift the bag into the overhead bin.”

Dr. Bautch says doing the lift in 2 parts instead of 1 gives you time to square yourself mid-way through the lift, which allows you to lift the bag into the bin without twisting your body. You should also use this approach when removing your bag from the bin before getting off the plane.

Another piece of advice when dealing with carry-on luggage: Ask for help from your fellow passengers or a member of the flight crew.

“If you have back problems, don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Dr. Bautch says. “People are nicer than we give them credit for.”

On the Course
As the temperatures start to rise, one of the most popular spots is the golf course. Before you take your first swing, you can help protect your back by safely transporting your clubs from the car to the cart.

“When you get your clubs out of your car trunk, get as low as possible,” Dr. Bautch says. “With your knees against the car, bend down, drop your knees, and lift your clubs with legs so you’re not only lifting with your back.”

Dr. Bautch also suggests minimizing the weight in your bag by cleaning it out regularly.

“Carry as light as possible, and don’t haul clubs you don’t use,” he says.

Gadgets to Pack to Help Your Back
Countless gadgets claim to make your travel experience more comfortable, but Dr. Bautch says one rises to the top for spine health: A spine support pillow.

“Neck and lumbar pillows do a great job supporting your spine’s natural curves and preventing disc injuries,” he says.

While getting two pillows—one under your low back and another under your neck—is ideal, Dr. Bautch says the lumbar pillow is most important, as that area of your spine is most prone to disc injuries.

Warding Off the Biggest Travel Energy: Inactivity
If there’s one tip Dr. Bautch tells his patients to travel safely, it’s keep moving.

Traveling typically means sitting for long periods, which our bodies are not designed to do, he says.

“You’re incredibly healthier if you keep moving,” he says. “When traveling, add as much motion as you can to keep fluids moving in body. We’re not meant to be sitting still for more than 15 minutes at a time. Wiggle and move as much as you can.”

If you’re waiting for a flight at the airport, do a few laps around your terminal instead of sitting at your gate, for instance.

Staying active when you’re actually on the plane or in a car becomes a bit more challenging, but nonetheless, possible and important. You can do small, simple movements while seated that make a big difference:

  • Move your belly button forward and push it back into your seat.
  • Hold then relax different muscles of your body, such as your thighs and glutes.
  • Open your toes and fingers as wide as you can then relax them.
  • Take regular deep breaths in, then slowly and thoughtfully push air out.

During car trips, Dr. Bautch recommends getting out of the vehicle and taking a break every 90 minutes.

“When we drive, things begin to erode both mentally and physically after 90 minutes,” he says. “Stop and take a 5-minute break. The chances of having a mental lapse that could cause an accident and a physical complaint decrease greatly when you take a break every hour and a half.”

Traveling can take its toll on your back and neck, but these simple strategies can combat the wear and tear it puts on your spine. But, Dr. Bautch notes that caring for your spine shouldn’t just happen during the summer or while you’re traveling. It should be part of your lifestyle—from the journey to the destination and beyond.

“It’s important to be mindful of our spine and body in all activities we do,” he says.

Updated on: 06/08/17
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Back Care on Airplanes
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Back Care on Airplanes

Taking a long plane ride soon and worrying about comfort? This article gives practical tips that will help you take care of your back and neck.
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