Get the most out of every day when you travel.
It’s the height of travel season with the holidays and winter break right around the corner. We look forward to our well-deserved time off and want to make the most of every day. Don’t let the effects on your body from all that travel impact your ability to dive right in to your vacation. Learn what happens to your body while you travel and a few simple stretches and posture changes to help avoid and relieve common aches and pains during your journey.
What does travel do to our body?
When we travel, we are likely sitting for hours on end, whether it be waiting for or on a flight. We are more prone to slouching, causing the lumbar spine to be unsupported. If this pattern of slouching continues, we start to form a new posture, causing different alignment in our bodies and putting stress on the joints and muscles around it. Tension will be increased in the low back muscles. Stretching these muscles will help increase mobility in the lower back, lessening any acute or chronic pain an individual may have there.
If you have to lift your bag, keep it close to your body to protect your back and keep your core tight while you are lifting. If you are flying, practice proper sitting posture in the airport while waiting for your flight. Sit up tall, lengthen your spine, and pinch your shoulder blades back. Wherever you are traveling to, it is a good idea to support your low back by placing a rolled-up towel or small travel pillow between you and the seat. Practicing good posture will enforce good posture, preventing your low back muscles from stiffening beyond comfort.
We will see clients in the studio complain of a tingling or shooting pain from their back down their leg after getting back from a trip. Oftentimes this may be a case of sciatica. Sciatica can be a symptom of other back issues, in which pressure is put on the sciatic nerve. Such pressure may cause pain radiating from the back and glute muscles down the leg. The muscles most heavily affected by sciatica are the piriformis, glute, and hamstring muscles.
Stretching the piriformis and hamstrings as in the video below, will reduce the tension of those muscles, lessening compression on the sciatic nerve. This can be done before or after travel, using any flat surface or a chair.
Hip flexors connect our pelvis and thighs, and when that angle is decreased when sitting, the muscles will tighten up. Now add hours to that amount of time for travel and that tightness increases greatly. Tight hip flexors will overstretch the glutes and hamstrings, making them harder to utilize once you reach your destination. Having hips that are too anteriorly or posteriorly tilted will also cause a pulling of the hip flexors, which may lead to discomfort in the knees and low back.
It is important to maintain proper posture while sitting, as slouching or sitting with the knees up toward the chest will cause added tension in the hip flexors. Try to get up and walk around during your travel, so that the muscles are not flexed the entire time. Stretching the hip flexors, especially after a long flight or train ride, will alleviate the tension and restore the muscles to their proper range of motion.
Carrying bags are obviously necessary for travel, and with added fees for checking bags, it is easy to overstuff our luggage. Heavy backpacks will place stress on the shoulders and low back. When carrying a single shoulder bag, our bodies will favor one side. Favoring one side causes the other to compensate in movement and posture. Muscle imbalances that are not corrected will often cause discomfort in the neck, shoulders, and back. Although we may assume a shoulder bag only affects the muscles of the upper body, lower extremity muscles, like the hips, will also become imbalanced due to this shift in posture.
Using a rolling bag for luggage will lessen the stress of carrying bags. If you do use a two-strap backpack, make sure not to overstuff it, and adjust the straps so the load does not lie to high or too low on your back.
NECK AND SPINE
Sitting upright for hours when traveling will affect the neck and spine. Usually neither area will be properly supported while in this seated position. The head and neck will shift to get comfortable, or while trying to sleep. If the back or neck is leaning to one side, that side will be shortened and should be stretched. Looking down at any phone, tablet, or book during travel will cause the front neck muscles to tighten, while the muscles in the back of the neck and back lengthen.
Use a travel pillow to support the neck while traveling. Stretching all of the neck and upper back muscles will allow for proper alignment of the neck and spine and reduce any soreness in the areas that may have been slept on improperly. These stretches can be done from your seat or once you reach your destination.
Whether you’re traveling for pleasure or business, make sure your body is travel-ready and be mindful of your posture and mobility as you make your way from home to the airport, on the plane and to your final destination. Safe travels.
Written by Ariel Scheintaub. Ariel is a Stretch Therapist in our Tribeca studio.