Monday, October 15, 2012

Protect Your Back When Traveling

Frequent traveling for work or fun is becoming more and more common and the back pain that results from those trips is something I see in my office every week.  While some of us do it more than others, the aches and pains associated with traveling are the same.  Sitting in a car or airplane seat, especially without any lumbar support, compresses the discs between the vertebrae and stretches the small joints and muscles in the back, putting everything in the ’wrong’ position.  When traveling, the last thing you want is back pain interrupting your trip.  Fortunately, there are some things you can do to prevent back pain and ensure your trip is full of ’smooth sailing’.

Get Up and Move
Frequent movement is critical for prevention of pain.  When flying, a short walk up and down the aisle every hour creates motion in the spine and increases circulation in your legs.  This also helps prevent the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis, or (DVT), an painful condition where a blood clot forms in a vein deep in the calf when blood thickens and clumps together. 

Long periods of sitting can also weaken the ‘core ‘ muscles that support the spine. Core weakness prevents optimal functioning of the hips and lower spine.  Here are very simple ways to engage your core while traveling.

Hands Over Head
Raise your hands over your head and press your palms together with light pressure for 5-seconds. You can do this while sitting or standing.  The reason this works? Whenever you out your hands over your head it forces your spine into extension (backwards bending). The abdominals function as anti-extension muscles. Your brain 'fires' the abdominal muscles to prevent too much extension.  Pressing the hands together at the end of the movement contracts the muscles further, waking up the upper back muscles that are tired from slouching.  Obviously, if you are driving, wait until you stop to perform this movement.

Mini-Reverse Lunge
People that sit for long periods of time can develop what’s called 'gluteal amnesia'.  Basically, after long periods of sitting, the ‘butt’ muscles forget what to do and when to do it.  When this happens, the muscles in the lower back have to take over, often resulting in lower back pain. 

To alleviate this, stand with both legs together. Take a slight step backwards while squeezing the buttock on the backwards leg. Hold position for a count of 6 and repeat 5 times per side. The action of stepping backwards fires the buttock muscles and the isometric contraction help sustain the movement.

Breathing is very important for core stability and neck strength.  Most people tend to inhale and exhale using too much of their chest and lungs as opposed to the diaphragm. The diaphragm is an inner core muscle that contributes to intra abdominal pressure and helps prevent back pain.  Breathing with the chest uses the anterior neck and upper shoulder muscles too much causing those muscles to fatigue.  To improve your belly breathing, put one hands on your chest and one on your abdomen. Take a deep breath in through your nose and make the bottom hands move before the top hand, inflating your abdomen like a balloon. If your chest hand moves first that means you are breathing with your chest too much. Breathe this way for 3 minutes.

Travel does not have to be stressful or painful.  Try these simple exercises and take care of your body while traveling and you can enjoy  transit… the trip can be painless.  And what better way to relax on vacation or arrive on business after travel, than stress free and pain free!

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