For many people who suffer with acute, chronic or occasional back issues, the idea of traveling can create feelings of apprehension and fear. Finding a comfortable seat, standing in line ups, and transporting luggage are just a few of the challenges that can aggravate your spine. The following tips are offered to help you avoid discomfort while traveling.

Travel light - less weight means less stress on your back. Often we hear travelers say half the clothes they took, they never even wore.

Suitcases with wheels are priceless - they take a huge load off of your spine. Be sure when pulling your luggage to switch arms intermittently to distribute the load to both sides of your torso.

Alternate pushing & pulling - if you are reasonably dextrous, spend some of your time walking through the terminal pushing, rather than pulling, your luggage in front of you. Again, it is a good idea to alternate arms.

Backpacks - if you are traveling with a backpack, make sure your pack fits your body. Always use both shoulder straps and a waist belt to distribute the load evenly over your entire body. When taking it on or off, you can reduce stress on your back by place the backpack on a chair, table or raised surface.

Packing your backpack - always pack your luggage with the heaviest items closest to your body and the lighter objects further away. You want to keep as much of the weight as you can close to your spine and center of gravity.

Help with your luggage - if there is an attendant there to help you on and off the vehicle, let them move your luggage. Make sure your carry-on bag holds only what you will need!

Water bottles - why transport extra weight if you don’t have to? Fill up your water bottle at your destination, or if you want water along the way drink just before you leave and carry only the amount you need for the trip.

Hotel beds - some beds are better than others. While we cannot pack our beds on trips, we can bring our pillow. Familiarity always makes for a more comfortable sleep. So if you have room your pillow is light, pack it.

Walking - a trip is not a trip without some walking and adventure. Good shoes are important to prevent blisters and cushion you against hard surfaces that you find in airport terminals. Before you go, you should see Dr. Houlgrave for a foot assessment. He can make adjustments where needed and, if needed, provide you with a pair of custom orthotics to get your feet back on track.

Move it or lose it - changing your posture frequently prevents muscles from shortening and joints from seizing. I always encourage my patients to change their posture every 30 minutes to 1 hour, even if it is only for 2 minutes. If you are sitting or driving, stop and get out of your seat. Go for a walk, walk around the car 5 times, take a bathroom break, grab a snack or stretch for a couple of minutes. If you are on a plane, move back to the bathroom area where there is room to stand and stretch on the spot for a few minutes.

Prolonged sitting - if you are on a plane choose your seat wisely as leg room is at a premium. If you are in a car go for the front seat as they usually have more leg room and better overall spinal support. If the seat can be adjusted, switch up the angle every 30 minutes or so to keep your back changing and mobile.

Seated stretches and mobilization - You can stretch and move safely while driving! Dr. Houlgrave has a series of seated movements and stretches that can be performed even in your car, and not effect your ability to drive defensively. These movements mimic the exercises he prescribes on the wobble chair in his office. These movements are designed specifically for the lower spinal discs to improve blood flow, increase mobility, reduce disc bulges, and decrease tension and pain.

Taking a small cooler for your lunch - why not throw in a small ice pack? You can get a couple of uses out it on any trip by using it for 15 minutes and then returning it to the cooler for 30 minutes or so. Ice is a natural anti-inflammatory that reduces inflammation and decreases pain.

Heated seats - if you have them you are lucky. If you do not have acute pain, turn them on! Heat is a great way to increase blood flow, stimulate healing, and diminish pain by softening muscles. If you find yourself to be stiffening up during your trip, turn the heater on periodically for short intervals and especially 10 minutes before you expect to get out of your vehicle. To learn more about when it is safe to use hot or cold therapy, check out our backcare blog and read the article “Ice or Heat - The Burning Question?”

Lumbar support - everyone has a slightly different curvature to their spine so if your seat has this option take the time to set it up so that it fits you. If not, you can always makeshift a suitable facsimile by rolling up a small blanket or jacket. Of course, if you own a lumbar support cushion and you can make room in the vehicle to take it with you it is well worth it.

Spinal check up - it is hard even for a chiropractor to know when his/her back is “out,” and when we need to seek the services of a colleague to get lined up. By the time you start to recognize that things are not right, the damage is already being done. Vertebrate are no different than your teeth. You look after your teeth by brushing them daily and visiting your dentist twice a year. Your spinal health depends on receiving similar attention to remain healthy. Call us to organize an appointment, we can help!

I hope this information helps you to have a happy & healthy trip for you and your family, Dr. Houlgrave