Flying can be a thrilling experience, but for those suffering from lower back pain, it can quickly turn into a source of discomfort and agony. The confined space, prolonged sitting, and lack of proper support during a flight can exacerbate existing back pain or trigger new discomfort.
However, with the right knowledge and strategies, it’s possible to make your journey more bearable and minimize lower back pain while sitting on a plane.
In this article, we will explore various techniques, tips, and accessories that can help you maintain better posture, alleviate pain, and enjoy a more comfortable flight.
So without further ado, let’s get straight to the spine of this article.
Prevalence of Lower Back Pain on Air
Lower back pain is a common issue that many adults face while traveling on planes. Sitting for a longer period of time, doing little to no movements, and sitting with an improper posture can trigger lower back pain while you are traveling in the air.
Air travel often involves long periods of sitting in cramped seats with limited legroom. Maintaining the same position for an extended duration can strain the lower back muscles and lead to discomfort or pain.
While onboard, passengers have limited opportunities for movement due to space constraints and safety regulations. Lack of regular movement and stretching can further contribute to muscle stiffness and increased stress on the lower back.
In an effort to find a comfortable position, passengers may unknowingly adopt poor posture, such as slouching or hunching over. These postures can place excessive strain on the lower back, resulting in pain and discomfort.
Why Proper Posture is Essential?
Maintaining proper posture and comfort during air travel is crucial for minimizing the risk of lower back pain. Here’s why it’s important:
- Spinal Alignment: Maintaining proper posture helps align the spine and distribute the body’s weight evenly. This reduces stress on the lower back and minimizes the likelihood of developing pain or discomfort.
- Muscle Support: Good posture ensures that the muscles surrounding the spine are engaged and working optimally to provide support. When the muscles are properly aligned, they can better handle the demands of prolonged sitting and prevent strain or injury.
- Circulation and Flexibility: Proper posture allows for better blood circulation and prevents the development of muscle stiffness. Regularly adjusting positions, stretching, and taking short walks when possible can help improve flexibility and reduce the risk of lower back pain.
5 Tips on How You Can Maintain a Proper Posture
- Use Lumbar Support: Utilize cushions or inflatable pillows to support the natural curve of the lower back and maintain proper spinal alignment.
- Sit Upright: Avoid slouching or leaning forward. Instead, sit upright with your shoulders relaxed and aligned with your hips.
- Take Frequent Breaks: Whenever possible, get up and walk around the cabin or perform simple stretching exercises to alleviate muscle stiffness and promote circulation.
- Adjust Seat Position: Utilize any available seat adjustments to optimize your seating position. Recline the seat slightly, if permitted, to reduce pressure on the lower back.
- Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water during the flight to stay hydrated and help prevent muscle cramps and stiffness.
What Actually Causes Lower Back Pain?
Lower back pain can be caused by due to many reasons and everyone has their own specific reason, here are a few common reasons why the lower back hurts that we have compiled for you:
- Muscle Strain: Overexertion, lifting heavy objects, or sudden movements can strain the muscles and ligaments in the lower back, leading to pain and discomfort.
- Poor Posture: Slouching, hunching over, or maintaining improper posture over time can put stress on the lower back muscles and spine, resulting in pain.
- Sedentary Lifestyle: Lack of regular exercise or physical activity weakens the muscles that support the spine, making the lower back more susceptible to pain and injury.
- Age-related Changes: As individuals age, the discs in the spine can degenerate, leading to conditions such as osteoarthritis or herniated discs, which may cause lower back pain.
- Structural Abnormalities: Some people may have structural issues in their spine, such as scoliosis (curvature of the spine), spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), or spondylolisthesis (slippage of one vertebra over another), which can contribute to lower back pain.
Problems From Sitting For Extended Period
Sitting for extended periods can trigger lower back pain in several ways:
- Increased Pressure on the Spine: Sitting puts more pressure on the discs in the lower back than standing or lying down. Prolonged sitting can compress the discs and lead to pain and discomfort.
- Strained Muscles: Sitting for long periods can cause the muscles in the lower back to become fatigued and strained. The lack of movement and support can exacerbate existing muscle imbalances or weaknesses.
- Reduced Blood Flow and Flexibility: Sitting in a static position restricts blood flow to the muscles and joints, causing stiffness and reduced flexibility. This can contribute to increased pain and discomfort in the lower back.
Body Conditions That Trigger Lower Back Pain
- Herniated Disc: When the soft inner portion of a spinal disc pushes through a crack in the tougher outer layer, it can irritate nearby nerves, causing lower back pain.
- Sciatica: Compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve, often due to a herniated disc or bone spur, can cause radiating pain from the lower back down to the legs.
- Spinal Stenosis: The narrowing of the spinal canal puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, leading to lower back pain, weakness, and numbness.
- Osteoarthritis: This degenerative joint disease can affect the lower back, causing stiffness, inflammation, and pain.
- Spondylolisthesis: When one vertebra slips forward over another, it can pinch nerves and result in lower back pain and muscle tightness.
Exercise and Stretch You can do on the plane
Before a flight, it’s beneficial to do some exercises and stretches that can help relieve tension in the lower back.
Seated Cat-Cow Stretch
Sit on the edge of a chair with feet flat on the ground. Place your hands on your knees. Inhale, arch your back, and look upward (Cow pose). Exhale, round your spine, and drop your chin to your chest (Cat pose). Repeat this sequence several times, coordinating the movement with your breath.
Seated Spinal Twist
Sit upright with feet flat on the ground. Place your right hand on your left knee and gently twist your torso to the left, looking over your left shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides. This stretch helps release tension in the lower back and promotes spinal mobility.
Standing Forward Bend
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend forward from the hips, allowing your upper body to hang loosely. You can bend your knees slightly if needed. Feel the stretch in your hamstrings and lower back. Hold for 30 seconds and slowly come back up to standing.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Bring one knee toward your chest and clasp your hands around it. Hold for 30 seconds and then switch legs. This stretch helps relieve tension in the lower back and stretches the glutes and hips.
Packing Lower Back Essentials
When you are traveling on air, it’s better to pack a lumbar pillow or a cushion, some compression socks, a neck pillow, comfortable clothes, or a water bottle. Though carrying a water bottle might not be allowed in hand carriages at some places you can get one once you onboard.
Lumbar Pillow or Cushion
Consider bringing a small, portable lumbar pillow or cushion to provide support for the natural curve of your lower back. It can help maintain proper posture and alleviate strain during the flight.
Compression socks promote healthy blood circulation and can reduce swelling and discomfort in the legs during long flights.
A neck pillow supports your neck and helps maintain proper spinal alignment while resting or sleeping during the flight.
Wear loose, breathable clothing and choose layers to adjust to the temperature on the plane.
Staying hydrated is crucial during air travel, so pack a refillable water bottle and sip water regularly throughout the flight.
Choosing The Right Seat
When it comes to choosing seats for your flight, opting for seats with extra legroom or adjustable lumbar support can significantly enhance your comfort and help alleviate lower back pain. Here are some seat options to consider:
- Exit Row Seats: Exit row seats often provide extra legroom, allowing you to stretch your legs and find a more comfortable position during the flight. These seats are generally preferred by passengers who value additional space.
- Bulkhead Seats: Bulkhead seats are located behind a partition or wall, usually at the front of a cabin section. They often offer extra legroom due to the absence of seats in front. However, note that some bulkhead seats may have limited under-seat storage or armrests that cannot be raised.
- Seats with Adjustable Lumbar Support: Some airlines or aircraft models offer seats with adjustable lumbar support. These seats allow you to customize the level of support for your lower back, helping maintain a more comfortable posture throughout the flight.
- Premium Economy or Business Class Seats: These seats generally provide more legroom, additional seat recline, and better overall comfort compared to standard Economy Class seats. These seats often come with adjustable lumbar support and various other amenities, making the flight more enjoyable.
Seating Techniques That Matter
Sitting with the right technique will definitely help you maintain a good posture and reduce the risk of having lower back pain.
Sit Back in the Seat
Position yourself so that your back is fully supported by the seatback. Avoid leaning forward or slouching. Make sure your buttocks are touching the back of the seat to provide proper support to your lower back.
Feet Flat on the Floor
Keep both feet planted firmly on the floor or footrest. This helps distribute your body weight evenly and reduces stress on your lower back. If your feet don’t reach the floor comfortably, consider using a footrest or adjusting the seat height, if possible.
Maintain Neutral Spine Alignment
Sit with your back naturally aligned, maintaining the natural curves of your spine. Avoid excessive arching or rounding of the lower back. Imagine a straight line extending from your head through your spine down to your tailbone.
Keep your shoulders relaxed and avoid hunching or slumping forward. Sit tall and engage your core muscles to support your spine.
Head and Neck Position
Align your head and neck with your spine. Avoid jutting your head forward or tilting it excessively. This helps maintain proper spinal alignment and reduces strain on the neck and upper back.
Use Lumbar Support
If available, use a lumbar pillow or adjust the built-in lumbar support in your seat. Position it to support the natural curve of your lower back, providing additional comfort and maintaining proper spinal alignment.
Avoid Crossing Legs
Sitting with crossed legs can disrupt proper alignment and increase strain on your lower back. Instead, keep your feet planted on the floor or use a footrest.
Take Regular Breaks and Stretch
Even with proper seating techniques, it’s essential to take regular breaks during long flights. Get up, walk around, and perform simple stretches to alleviate muscle stiffness and promote circulation.
5 Strategies For Coping With Pain On Flight
- Deep Breathing and Meditation: Deep breathing exercises and meditation can promote relaxation and help manage pain. Take slow, deep breaths, focusing on inhaling and exhaling fully. You can also practice mindfulness meditation by paying attention to your breath or using guided meditation apps or recordings.
- Distraction Techniques: Engaging in activities that divert your attention from the pain can be helpful. Listen to music, audiobooks, or podcasts, watch movies or TV shows, or read a book or magazine. These distractions can help shift your focus away from discomfort and make the flight more enjoyable.
- Heat or Cold Therapy: If appropriate, consider using heat or cold therapy to relieve pain. Heat packs or warm compresses applied to the lower back can help relax muscles and improve blood circulation. Cold therapy, such as ice packs wrapped in a thin cloth, can reduce inflammation and numb the area. Ensure you follow safety guidelines and check with your healthcare professional if heat or cold therapy is suitable for your condition.
- Gentle Stretching: Perform gentle stretches and movements while seated to alleviate muscle tension and improve circulation. Stretch your legs, rotate your ankles, and do simple neck and shoulder exercises. Be mindful of the available space and any safety regulations while performing these stretches.
- Medication or Pain Relief Options: Consult with your healthcare professional before the flight to discuss any pain relief options or medications that may be appropriate for managing your specific condition. They can provide guidance on over-the-counter pain relievers or prescribe medication if necessary.
As your plane touches down and you prepare to depart, take a moment to reflect on the steps you’ve taken to alleviate lower back pain during your flight.
By implementing the sitting techniques, exercises, and strategies discussed in this article, you’ve prioritized your well-being and made the journey more manageable.
Remember, each flight presents an opportunity to refine your approach and discover what works best for you. So, embrace the knowledge gained and continue to seek comfort and relief on your future travels.