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Natural Awakenings NYC & Long Island

How to Prevent Travel-Related Aches and Pains

By Gina Marino, D.C.

Travel is exciting, but it can come with unpleasant side effects. Sitting for hours in a car, plane, bus or train stresses the spine, joints, ligaments, discs and muscles, leading to days of neck or back pain.

Being stuck in one position can make our joints and muscles tighten, decreasing our range of motion so that the slightest movement can lead to muscle spasms or even strained muscles. Just reaching forward to change the radio station or turning to look out the window can trigger jolts of pain if our muscles and joints are too tight.

Long trips can also aggravate existing back or neck conditions, including arthritis, herniated discs, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease and sciatica.

Sitting affects the spine’s ability to support the body adequately. When we sit, the natural curve in the lower back flattens, while pressure on the spinal discs increases, according to a study in the Asian Spine Journal.

Seat design is another issue. It’s hard to make a seat that fits everyone equally well. If the headrest is too tall or the seat doesn’t offer enough lower-back support, whoever is sitting there will probably experience some degree of pain if the trip lasts more than an hour or two.

How to Prevent Travel-Related Pain

Fortunately you can avoid or at least decrease travel-related pain by following a few of these suggestions:

Take regular breaks: Break long car trips into two- or three-hour segments. On plane or train trips, walk up and down the aisle a few times every two or three hours. Walking not only keeps muscles and joints limber but also reduces the risk of blood clots on long trips.

Try some stretches: Stretching before, during and after long trips will help keep the joints and muscles limber, reduce spasms and prevent range-of-motion restrictions.

Be prepared: Pack a few things to make the trip more comfortable, like a headrest pillow or U-shaped neck pillow, a cushion that provides lower-back support or a cushion to sit on to prevent leg and back pain on long trips.

Use pain-relieving patches, ointments or tape: Capsicum patches or ointments can ease muscle pain, while kinesiology tape applied to the neck or shoulders can reduce stress, pain and swelling. If cold packs are an option, they can help too.

Maintain good posture: Slouching increases pressure on the back and neck, worsening aches and pains. An upright seat makes it harder to slouch. If sciatica or tailbone pain is a problem, put most of your weight on your legs when you sit.

Get chiropractic care: Visiting a chiropractor before and after long trips can help travelers avoid pain. During a pre-trip visit, a chiropractor can offer treatments to improve spinal alignment and reduce muscle tension. A post-trip visit will focus on restoring spinal alignment, eliminating spasms and muscle pain, reducing inflammation and improving range of motion.

Gina Marino, D.C., owns the Center for the Alignment of Body, Mind and Spirit, located at 2050 Wantagh Ave., Wantagh, NY. For appointments or more information, call 516-221-3500 or visit

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