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Aches on a Plane: Tips for alleviating neck and back aches during long and dreadful plane rides

Everyone knows the feeling... You’re cramped, sitting in your seat and somewhere between the flight attendant’s safety instructions and take off, your back starts to hurt. You can’t seem to get  comfortable. The whole ride you're trying to find the right balance, so you recline the seat back and forth, lean left and right, but nothing seems to relieve the tightness. Your body slowly begins to lock up. By the time the flight lands you’re hot and bothered, waiting for everyone crowding the walkway to exit so you can hobble out of the gait and find your way to your hotel or work meeting, just to do it all over again in a couple of hours. Sound familiar? What if I told you that you don’t have to fly that way anymore? Would you believe me that  I can help eliminate your back aches? Well I have a solution that you might want to try. 

Recently I took a weekend vacation with my wife to New Orleans to enjoy a little adventure with OUT the baby - something we haven’t done  since before she was pregnant last year. On the plane, I started to think about writing this blog when I found myself implementing some exercises to keep my body from falling prey to the ever so snug seats in economy class. Through my traveling experience I started realizing other ways in which one could save themselves the agony of back and neck pain; and so I have created a few ideas for people to try. 

One strength of always seeing things on the brighter side, is the discovery of what taking a connecting flight may offer someone who is suffering from chronic back pain. I know what you're thinking right now, “This guy must be crazy!!”;  But actually, with chronic low back pain, the best thing to do is to move well, and move often. That is why breaking up the time into two separate flights actually allows you to reduce the amount of sedentary sitting. Picking a connecting flight with about an hour layover is not that bad, because it gives you enough time to get off one plane, walk around the terminal, stretch, and maybe even buy yourself some unique snacks (Like Goo Goo clusters if you’re in Nashville). Before you know it,  the next plane is ready for boarding, your body feels as good as it did before the first flight, and you are halfway to your destination with no more back pain. 

Another useful tip is to pay attention to the seatbelt signals. When the seat belt signal goes off, it is a great time to get out of the seat and walk up and down the cabin —  even if you don’t need to use the restroom, you can pretend to. The lavatory is just large enough for most people to do some mini squats, standing quad stretches, and even some trunk twists to stretch trunk muscles and increase blood flow to the abdominals and lower extremities – which can combat back stiffness. The beauty behind this idea is that no one needs to know what you are doing and each movement should take no longer than 30 seconds at a time. If you did 1 set of each exercise  mentioned above, total time in the lavatory would be about 2 minutes; which is probably a lot less time than the average someone spends in the restroom. 

Lastly, are the exercises that you can implement while sitting in your seat. Now something to make note of is that most of the exercises I am about to share with you need zero equipment to perform. Rather what is more important is the focus on posture, and breathing. I mention breathing, because most people under stress do not breathe properly, and muscles need oxygen to perform their duties; which in this case, is to provide support to the spine and pelvis. Diaphragmatic breathing is an exercise which has many benefits that include strengthening core muscles’ stability, lowering stress, and reducing muscle fatigue. Improving your ability to breathe from the belly and not from the chest will alleviate unnecessary stress on the spine by improving positional awareness and spinal alignment. 

Moreover, understanding the relationship between our muscles and joints helps explain why we do certain exercises over others;  but instead of going through every single exercise in detail, I want you to check out the link below that I have provided which will direct you to a series of pictures with descriptions on how to perform them. The list of exercises are as follows: 

  1. Seated marches 
  2. Abdominal Isometrics
  3. Seated Hamstring Stretch
  4. Pelvic clocks
  5. Posterior Pelvic Tilts
  6. Seated Adductor Squeezes
  7. Glute Sets 
  8. Transverse Abdominis Activation 
  9. Scapular Retractions 
  10. Chin Tucks 

For more tips on or if you have any questions please do not hesitate to reach us! 

Sincerely here for your health!, 

Adrian Inhulsen, PTA 

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