In Flight Service: Tips to Avoid Back and Neck Pain

Whether you’re a mother with three restless children or a high-profile executive traveling on business, all of us are susceptible to back pain while flying. It seems airline travel was tailor-made for discomfort. The seats are not designed to support the natural curve of the spine, leg room is nonexistent and you constantly fight your neighbor’s elbow for the armrest. Not to mention your neck is in limbo. No wonder nearly 9 out of 10 travelers reported having neck or back pain while flying. Even though you can’t stop flying altogether, there are some tips to minimize your angst -- and soreness.

It all starts with preparation. Pack light and bring two smaller suitcases instead of one large one. This way, you’re not straining your back while trying to lift one heavy bag. Backpacks work great as long as they’re not more than 15 percent of your body weight and you wear both straps at all times. Backpacks free up your hands, enabling you to roll your other luggage without strain on your back.

When choosing your airline seat, don’t be afraid to be picky. Try to get an aisle seat because it will be easier to get in and out to move up and down the cabin aisle. You also won’t have to wake your neighbors and awkwardly slide past them. If your flight isn’t full, ask if there are any back rows available. Sometimes you’ll end up with a full row to yourself and you can lie down to sleep and have more room. However, on some airlines the back and exit rows don’t allow you to recline, which can cause serious discomfort for your spine even on short flights, so always check beforehand. A great web site to check seat configuration and leg room before booking is

To make your seat more comfortable you can roll up a small towel or pillow and place it between your lower back and the seat to support the natural curve of your lumbar spine.. A lot of airplane seats are worn and sunken in, which can cause you to slump down. Put a folded blanket on the seat to even it out, cushioning your lower back and increasing the support for your spine. If you have serious pain you can always bring disposable heating pads with you when you travel. When you want to switch to a cold pad, simply ask the flight attendant for a plastic baggy and ice from the drink cart. When using both heat and ice, begin and end with heat and apply ice in between. If given the choice, use cold therapy to decrease inflammation and remember to limit your applications to 10-minute intervals.

Whether you have back pain or not, it’s important to get up every 20-30 minutes to walk around the cabin to stretch and relieve tension that has built up from being in a cramped space. If you travel frequently it may be beneficial to get routine massages and chiropractic adjustments at a chiropractor to maintain spinal health.

Traveling can be a stressful time and it can take a toll on your muscles and joints. Remember to always put your health first and take preventive steps wherever you go. After touchdown, heading to the chiropractor may be your next best trip.