Getting on a plane anytime soon?
Whether you have pain occasionally or experience chronic debilitation, here are some tips to manage pain while traveling.
Get Up & Walk Around When Possible
Contrary to popular belief, sitting is actually much worse for back pain than standing. Especially if you have a pre-existing spine condition or injury, sitting for extended periods of time may create worsening back pain symptoms.
Bio-mechanical studies have demonstrated that pressures within the disc peak in the seated position and improve with standing (and even more with lying down). So, get out of your seat and move around the cabin at least once an hour as a preventative step.
Maintain Good Sitting Posture
When you’re stuck in an uncomfortable situation it can be easy to shift into awkward sitting positions and strain both the cervical and lumbar spine. Recommendation is to continually readjust posture to a neutral position. There are available apps for smartphones and smartwatches which can help to remind you to realign as well as get up, move around and stretch.
The purpose of utilizing a neck pillow in flight is to maintain the cervical spine in a neutral position. Excessive flexion or extension of the neck for extended periods can produce increased stress in the discs, ligaments, and joints and may lead to neck pain.
If you have a significant neck condition or have had surgery, this may be significantly magnified. Even if you don’t plan on sleeping, a neck pillow can subtly improve your posture and help to prevent symptoms.
Bring Any Necessary Medication
If you already take over-the-counter or prescription medications to relieve back or neck pain, make sure you have them with you, and try to maintain your schedule. It is much more effective to prevent onset or increase in symptoms as opposed to trying to get pain under control once it worsens.
Talk to Your Doctor Before Your Trip
This is especially true for patients who have been diagnosed with a spinal condition or those who are recovering from spine surgery. Make sure you have clearance from your physician if you have undergone recent spinal surgery or have a serious spinal condition.
One of the biggest risks in flight is a development of a blood clot or deep vein thrombosis (DVT) which can dislodge and cause a pulmonary embolism. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates a 1/6000 chance of DVT following a four-hour flight in the average person.
This is dramatically elevated in patients having surgery below the waist (hip/knee) but also somewhat increased in spinal surgery patients as well.
Your physician will recommend moving about often, moving the ankles up and down frequently to keep the venous system flowing, and may recommend wearing compressive stockings that can help to prevent venous congestion.