How To Manage Back Pain During Holiday Travel

Published on November 16, 2022 by Dr. Kevin P. McCarthy

Along with the fun and excitement the holidays bring, chances are also high that you or someone in your family will experience back pain at some point this season. Millions of adults in the U.S. suffer from persistent or chronic back pain. During this jam-packed season, the stress, traveling and unfamiliar surroundings we find ourselves in can take a further toll on our bodies.

There are several steps you can take while traveling, particularly before and during a flight, to help better manage your back pain. A frequent traveler himself, Dr. Kevin McCarthy with The Spine Center of Louisiana has visited all seven continents and has spent a lot of time on airplanes. He understands the effect on back pain and suggests booking flights during off-peak times to avoid long lines and extended periods of standing such as during check-in and airport security.

Another area that can make a difference is when selecting your seat. In coach, exit rows have more legroom. McCarthy also suggests choosing an aisle seat so that you won’t have to climb over people and because it’s easier to stand and stretch or take a quick stroll.

For chronic back pain sufferers, they may want to consider contacting airport security for assistance prior to their flight. TSA Cares can be reached at (855) 787-2227 and can provide more information about how to get through security more comfortably and easily. They can even assign a helper at the airport. If you want someone to go to your gate with you, ask your airline for a pass that allows the person through security without a ticket.

Another tip is to ask for a wheelchair. Even if you don’t usually need one, consider it. Airports are filled with snaking lines and long walks, which can be a recipe for back pain. You can reserve one when you buy your ticket or just ask for one at the airport.

Finally, bring any pain medication onto the flight. Whether you are taking prescription or over the counter medications, consider taking your pain medication one hour before the flight to give it time to get into your system. Carry pain medications together in a clear plastic bag and have them on you at all times, in case you need them during the flight. If you use an over-the-counter medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or NSAIDS (Advil, Motrin), you may want to bring a few extra if the flight is particularly long.

Baggage can also be challenging for back-pain sufferers. “As a frequent traveler, I know that crowded planes and hoisting a heavy carry on can be hard on your back,” McCarthy says. “Choose baggage with wheels, even for short trips. When lifting, bend your knees before retrieving your luggage from the carousel. And, if your bag is heavy, don’t hesitate to ask for help from a flight attendant.

These strategies, while simple, can play a larger role in helping to lessen back pain so you can spend more time enjoying your family, friends and surroundings.”

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