During my Air Force Flight Surgeon training I learned that airplane seats have been designed to safety standards but not necessarily for comfort. Many of the airline seats lack lumbar support and cause your back to be in the uncomfortable position of a “C”. Legroom is another issue for most travelers, as you can imagine being over 6 feet tall is an even bigger problem. The unfortunate person in the seat ahead can rarely recline, as there is no space for their seat back and one’s knees to coexist. With this tight space, you need to be concerned about a couple issues: blood flow in your legs (and the risk of DVT: Deep Venous Thrombosis*), and support for your back.
Travel Tips Before the Flight:
• Book an aisle seat. This makes it so much easier for when you need to get in and out and can give you more room if you need to stretch out a bit.
• Pack as lightly as possible, especially if you are carrying your luggage. If possible use a carry-on with wheels.
• Pack some relaxing music to listen to. This can help you relax more and ease tension and stress which can exacerbate pain.
• Drink plenty of water. Altitude changes can cause dehydration! Try to avoid tea, coffee and alcohol as these will dehydrate you further.
Get Your Blood Flowing:
• Move about the cabin when appropriate and stretch every hour or so
• Do some calf squeezes
• Move your ankles in a circular motion
Create your own lumbar support:
• Carry on a small towel, t-shirt, or blanket
• Roll your item of choice and place is in the small of your back
• Roll it with enough thickness so that your knees are not being pushed forward
Since each chair is different, and each person’s lumbar lordosis (curve in the low back) is different. One size does not fit all; just try it until it feels right.
What About Those Long Car Trips? Many of us will be driving for long distances to reach our destinations this summer.
• Take frequent breaks at rest stops. Be sure to stretch and move around.
• Remove your cell phone and/or wallet from your back pocket. Leaving these items in your pocket can create an abnormal sitting position which can exacerbate your discomfort.
• Make use of your car’s lumbar support. If your car does not provide adequate support, try rolling up a shirt or small towel.
• Utilize heated seat feature (when available) to help ease back pain.
• Share the driving role whenever possible.
• Maintain good posture.
So, on your next trip, don’t forget to bring something small which you can roll up and give yourself some low back support. And, don’t just sit there, take breaks to keep your legs moving to get the blood flowing.
* Most people will never get a DVT. However, some risk factors include sitting still for a prolonged period of time, not moving or pumping the calf muscles, or anything which does not allow the blood to flow in the legs. Since the return of blood from the legs (the venous return) requires the muscles of the calf and leg to squeeze the veins, if the legs do not move, the blood does not flow as well.
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