Three Tips to Avoid Back Pain on Airplanes

Airplane travel is fast, safe, and relatively affordable, a modern miracle by any standard. It can also be a source of pain and discomfort, and I’m not just talking about the risk of sitting next to crying babies or loud snorers. The cramped spaces and prolonged periods of sitting in one place can cause aches and pains.

As a Doctor of Chiropractic, I’ve developed three basic habits to avoid back pain on airplanes and other pains when traveling, and I’d recommend them to anyone. Until the airlines themselves start to include these recommendations along with things like basic safety procedures, it’s up to each of us to take steps to take care of ourselves and stay healthy while flying.

Step 1: Get an Aisle Seat

Few things can compare to staring down at the world from thousands of feet in the air, unless you’re afraid of heights. Blue seas, golden farmlands, snowy mountains, all of these and more greet the eye of the air traveler. That said, you should probably resist the temptation of the window seat, or the middle seat, because once every hour or so it’s important to get up and move around. Cramped muscles and spines can be a source of pain before and after the trip is over, and few of us can afford a seat with ample leg room, even if it isn’t crowded by carry-on items. Sitting too long in a cramped seat can also carry a risk of blood clot formation, which can even be fatal. With an aisle seat, you never have to ask anyone to let you get up.

Step 2: Use Earplugs / Noise Cancelling Headsets

The ambient noise in airplanes can cause ear muscles to tighten, which in turn can lead to tightness of the neck and spine. Earplugs or noise cancelling headsets will block these noises, protecting your ear muscles and all the muscles they connect with. For flight crews, and perhaps frequent fliers, this can even lead to hearing loss.

Step 3: Place a Pillow Behind Your Lower Back

The temptation, for people who use airplane pillows, is to place them behind your neck, but this is poor posture and can lead to aches and pains. Instead, place the pillow behind your lower back for better sitting posture. If your normal posture habits are poor, this may seem uncomfortable at first, but stick with it, on and off the plane, because posture is critical to muscle and back health.

Fly safe and stay healthy!

Dr. Michael Petrie, D.C.
Spine and Joint Center