Top 20 Steps to Stop Back Pain on Long Flights While on Airplane

I suffer greatly from back pain on long flights and I take these flights to Europe, Africa and Asia about 6 times a year so I am looking for how to stop back pain on long flights.  The Telegraph reports that long-haul flights are the scourge of many a back pain sufferer. Cramped leg room, uncomfortable seating and being confined to a small space all contribute to lower back pain during and after a flight.  back pain on long flightsA substantial 88 per cent of people experience increased back or neck pain following a flight, according to a survey by Spine Universe. Expats clocking up the air miles to visit family and friends are therefore frequently putting their posture under pressure, and risking long-term back problems.

Lydia Sherlock sees many frequent flyers through her work with Core Strength Bristol, a gym that offers a 12-week spinal rehabilitation programme for sufferers of back pain.   “There are measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of an attack and ease soreness if pain strikes,” said Mrs Sherlock, who has put together the following top tips.

Before you fly 

  1. By strengthening the musculature of your back and core in the weeks leading up to your flight, you stand a much better chance of surviving the flight pain-free. The stronger the surrounding muscles, the better supported your spine will be to cope with the demands of flying.
  2. Consider a six to 10-week course of Pilates or similar core-strengthening work before you fly. Many back pain professionals now offer such courses with instructors who specialise in back pain.
  3. Ask your doctor to help. Your doctor is one of your best advocates when preparing for a vacation.
        • Ask your doctor to write a letter to your airline and flight crew. While airlines have been criticized lately for poor customer service, your medical letter may be just what it takes to persuade the crew to allow special accommodations. One of our forum members presented a medical letter and was upgraded to business class, allowed to lie on the floor and rest during long flights, given extra blankets and cushions, and was allowed to walk around as often as he needed.
        • Ask your doctor if they can provide you with extra prescription drugs like narcoticsor muscle relaxants to help make the plain ride easier on your lower back
  4. Contact the airline.  Weeks before your trip, call the airline to inform them you have a medical condition. With advance notice, they should be able to :
      • Provide you with medical attention (if necessary) via wheelchair assistance and early boarding.
      • Have airline personnel carry your luggage and/or lift it into the overhead bin for you.
      • Accommodate you with special shuttles and elevator platforms for boarding.
      • Give you tips for traveling (and getting through security) with your transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit.
      • Allow non-medical assistants to accompany you through security and boarding.
  5. Weeks before your trip, call the airline to inform them you have a medical condition. With advance notice, they should be able to :

      • Provide you with medical attention (if necessary) via wheelchair assistance and early boarding.
      • Have airline personnel carry your luggage and/or lift it into the overhead bin for you.
      • Accommodate you with special shuttles and elevator platforms for boarding.
      • Give you tips for traveling (and getting through security) with your transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit.
      • Allow non-medical assistants to accompany you through security and boarding.

During the flight

As anyone who has sat in one can testify, airline seats aren’t designed for comfort.

 

  1. Bring over-the-counter pain medicationUtilize over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) or NSAIDS(Advil, Motrin and Nuprin) or naproxen (Aleve), to provide back pain relief on your flight.  Take your pain medication one hour before your flight to give it time to get into your system. Carry your pain medications together in a clear plastic bag and have them on you at all times, in case you need them during the flight. Inform flight attendants that you are on medication. This way they can monitor you if necessary.
  2. Provide support to your back during the flight.  For lower back pain, providing support behind your lower back, often with a back roll or even a couple of pillows (which a flight attendant should be more than willing to give you), is a good way to prevent slouching that may lead to back pain and to keep your spine straight. One forum member talked about how he brings a neck pillow on board to help with his neck pain.  Back braces, tube-shaped pillows with microfibers inside, and other materials providing support are common companions of passengers with back pain and can be purchased inexpensively at many stores.
  3. Experts suggest that sitting at a 135 degree angle places the least pressure on the vertebral discs and associated structures. You won’t be able to achieve this in-flight but may find it comfortable to sit with your seat in the reclined position.
  4. If you suffer neck pain, take along an inflatable neck pillow to provide extra support for your head and neck, and rolling up a blanket and placing it behind your lower back can help maintain the natural curve in the spine.
  5. Place a book or similar on the floor to put your feet on. This will raise your legs, putting them in better alignment with your hips.
    • If your legs are not positioned at a right angle when you sit in an airplane seat, ask for something (pillows, blankets) to prop up your feet and keep your knees at a right angle. Doing so keeps stress off the lower back.
    • If you have long legs, request an exit row or bulkhead seat, which generally has more leg room.Watch your posture. Airplane rides can be a bit tight and uncomfortable at times, especially if you’re not in first class or business class.
  6. Move around during the flight.  Staying stationary for prolonged periods of time stresses the spine and can make back pain much worse.  See if there is room at the back of plane to do some quick stretching, which can provide more flexibility to the back and ease stiffness. Just be sure not to get up during turbulence.
  7. Alternate between heat and ice.  Stock up on inexpensive heating options like ThermaCare heat wraps or warm gel packs and apply them while in the air.
    • Bring an empty hot water bottle and ask the flight attendant to fill it up during your flight.
    • Carry a small gel pack on the plane and have the flight attendant store it in the fridge when you are not using it.
    • Have a Ziploc bag on hand and ask the attendant to fill it up with ice that you can apply to your back.Alternate between heat and ice.  Alternate every 15 minutes between heat therapy, which can stretch the tissues around the spine and reduce the sending of pain signals, and ice treatment, which can numb back swelling. Here’s what you can do: Of course, do not apply heat or ice directly to the skin and be sure to check in with the airline to see what items are acceptable to carry on.
  8. back pain on long flights A long flight provides plenty of time to relax. Try:
    • Getting comfortable via a back or neck support, sitting properly or reclining your seat, and maybe even taking some pain medication prior to your flight.
    • Breathing slowly (inhale deeply, count to five, exhale slowly, and repeat 10 times) to relax your muscles and nerves.
    • Listening to some soothing music on an iPod.
    • Bringing a novel or some other reading materials that can stimulate your mind and divert your attention away from your back pain.
    • Staring out at the clouds and scenery (if you have a window seat) and letting your mind drift.
    • Thinking about your vacation destination and how long you’ve waited for this day.
  9. Aim to get up and walk around every 40 minutes if you can, a wander up and down the aisles will suffice.
  10. Find some space at the end of the aircraft and perform some stretching exercises to ease any stiffness.
  11. Start with a spine roll-down; standing tall, move your chin towards your chest then aim to articulate one vertebrae at a time, rolling forwards and rounding your spine until you are fully bent over. Reverse slowly to a standing position and repeat once more.
  12. Raise your legs each in turn, bringing your knee into your chest.
  13. Stretch the front of your thighs by bending your heel towards your bottom and gently pulling in with your hand.
  14. For the back of your legs, put one leg in front of the other, keep that leg straight, bend the other and hinge forwards from your hips. Keep your back straight and place your hands on the bent leg for support.
  15. Dehydration can worsen back pain, especially if you have disc problems. Make sure you drink plenty of water and avoid excessive tea, coffee and alcohol consumption.

After the flight

If you find yourself in pain following a flight, the best thing you can do is keep moving. Avoid staying seated for long periods and give your back a good stretch using the spinal roll-down. A deep-tissue massage can iron out any stiffness and relax tense muscles.    If the pain continues upon your return, see a back pain professional who can talk to you about long-term solutions.

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