From simple breathing exercises and stretching to strengthening the muscles around your spine, Dr Gerd Mueller suggests a few tips to avoid back pain during air travel
Flying, though enjoyable, can present a number of challenges to the health of a frequent traveller. Cramped leg room, being confined to a small space and extended periods of sitting – all affect the spine, resulting in back pain.
You can, however, strengthen your core muscles and those around your spine in the weeks leading up to your flight, and can follow a set of simple exercises before and during the flight to help alleviate the pain.
Before flight Stretch
Stretching relaxes muscles, helps increase stamina and flexibility, and reduces the risk of injury during workouts among other health benefits. Stretch your neck, shoulder and lower body muscles regularly.
In the days leading up to your trip, it is important to remain active. If you have not been working out, there are chances that your back muscles might spasm during the flight. You can begin with some easy mobility exercises such as forward, backward and side bending, and spine rotation. Frequent flying involves long hours of sitting, thus affecting your lower back the most. Workouts to enhance core stability and buttock strengthening exercises are a must to maintain a healthy lower back.
During flight Take breaks
Try not to sit in one position for more than an hour while flying. Attempt to get up and walk around for a few minutes every hour. It will help keep your muscles active. Even when you are seated, keep your muscles moving – stretch your calves at regular intervals by pointing your toes down, and stretch your back muscles by bringing your knees up to your chest. These exercises also help in preventing muscle spasms. Avoid sudden movements While stowing away your luggage in the overhead bin, be careful not to injure your shoulders. Stabilise your core by bending using both the hip and the knees to lift your luggage. Also, use both arms to lift, so that the weight is distributed equally.
Keeping yourself hydrated is crucial for long-haul flights, as the temperature- and pressure-controlled cabin can cause dryness. Dehydration can worsen back pain, cause joints to stiffen and aggravate back problems. Try to avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks, as these will dehydrate you further. Think of your trips to the washroom as a bonus, because they will give you opportunities to stretch.
Simple breathing exercises not only help reduce stress, but also maintain the expansion of your thoracic spine (the area between the neck and the lower back, which forms a major part of your torso). This is crucial for a healthy posture. Diaphragmatic breathing is one of the easiest exercises you can do while sitting.
For this, place one hand on your stomach, just below your ribcage, and the second hand on the centre of your chest. Breathe in deeply through your nostrils and let your first hand be pushed out by your stomach. Your chest should remain stationary. Breathe out through your lips, slowly letting the hand on your stomach sink inwards. Repeat at least three times.
A constant posture while sitting can result in increasing pain in the back and neck. So try to sit actively, change your posture once in a while. The more you move and alter your posture, the better you will feel. Also when you are sitting your shoulders should be back and down, and supported by the back rest of your seat. These are a few simple steps that you can follow to avoid or alleviate pain during and after a flight. But if the pain persists, consult a doctor.
The author is an orthopaedic surgeon from Germany and the founder of AktivHealth India, and the views expressed in this article are his own