Tips to avoid Back Pain during Plane Travel

With winter fast approaching those lucky enough are planning their escape to warmer climates.  Being located at the bottom of the southern hemisphere means a lengthy plane trip to reach those warmer climates in the northern hemisphere.  The sacrifice of escaping winter is being confined to an extremely small space for an excessively long time!  It's hard and uncomfortable for those travelling in economy.  For those suffering from back pain, such a trip can be daunting but there are some things that you can do, even in a cramped area to help avoid that nagging back pain.

Lumbar Support
Ensure your back is being supported. You can now purchase compact lumbar supports for a long trip, if this is not an option, you can improvise.  The plane will normally provide a pillow and a blanket, if you inform the flight crew that you have lower back issues, they may be able to provide you with an extra pillow or blanket.  Use this to support your lower back, place it in the curve of your lower back and sit back into it.

Seat Position
Aim to seat yourself in the aisle to ensure you can get up and move around regularly. Even better, do your best to try to book an exit row seat, this will give you more leg room to stretch out your legs. 

Flight Preparation
You need to be at the airport 3 hours before your flight, at least one hour will most likely be taken up by checking in.  I'm amazed to see people then make their way to their gate and sit! Knowing you are about to be seated for up to 24hours should motivate you to keep moving before your flight.  Walk as much as possible during this time, your body will be placed in an unnatural flexed position for a long time on the plane; walking places your body in extension, ideal for counteracting back pain.  If you're not too self conscious a few stretches before you get on the plane are worthwhile (see below for some suggestions).  In an ideal scenario, it would be great to see someone taking a 10min pre-flight stretch session for all passengers before they make their way on the plane.

Move!
Where possible get up and walk around the plane each hour.  This will get the blood moving around your body rather than pooling in the lower legs (a risk for deep-vein thrombosis - DVT).  Drinking lots of water will ensure you have to take regular bathroom breaks, and will also have the benefit of keeping you hydrated.  At the very least, head to the back of the plane and do some stretches.

Exercise in your seat
Yes, you can do some simple stretches in your seat; this will move the blood around the body and keep your muscles active and moving.  Muscles hate to be stagnant; they will stiffen up when placed in one position for too long, and this is when the back can start to niggle.  See below for some in-flight stretches.

Stopovers
You're pretty exhausted by the time you reach the half-way point, you will be tired, stiff and often sleep deprived.  Find a quiet spot in the airport (if that's possible) and do some gentle stretches, you will feel so much better doing these and although not rushing to get back on the plane, you will feel better for the second stage of the flight.

Final Destination
There is nothing better than a shower and bed after a long flight. You can finally stretch out and lie flat! Over the following days you may also find your back starts to niggle and is stiff and uncomfortable.  To help avoid this, walk as much as possible and sit as little as possible. Remember, your body has been in a flexed forward position for a very long time; this places quite a bit of strain on your lower back, neck and hips.  The opposite action is extension; this includes exercises such as walking and back extensions (see below).  

Image from Women's Health & Walk you Butt off

Image from Women's Health & Walk you Butt off

Image from Staysure.co.uk

Image from Staysure.co.uk