The holidays are a magical time of year. But if you have a history of low back pain, this can be a very challenging time of year as well. People with back pain need to take special precautions when they travel. With travel, you have a higher risk of new injuries to your back as well as an aggravation of your chronic pain. After all, you may have to carry luggage, sit for a long time in the seat with poor support, or sleep on an uncomfortable bed.
The way to travel this holiday season without pain is to do some thinking and planning before you leave home. Here are some helpful suggestions:
Travel with your medical records.
This may sound simple, but there is a right way, and a wrong way, to take your records with you. I suggest you go to Office Depot, get an old-fashioned chart with multiple tabs, and a pocket on one side. Each tab can represent different physician's notes, as well as a tab for diagnostic tests, laboratories, medications, and one tab for an overview or summary of your health history. The pocket on the other side of the chart is to store all of the CDs of imaging studies and diagnostic tests that have been performed. This simple act can quite literally be a lifesaver. If you have to go to an urgent care center or the emergency room, having this information is absolutely invaluable.
How you pack can make a huge difference in how you feel during your journey. Traveling with two small suitcases instead of one large, overstuffed suitcase can keep you from injury. Luggage that is easy to transport, one with wheels that work, can make all the difference what it comes to moving 30 or 40 pounds. Lifting heavy weight is the wrong thing for someone who has low back pain. With twisting and lifting, it is easy to herniate a lumbar disc. Also, make sure to pack all of your medications.
Ask for help!
While this might seem difficult for some (especially husbands!), asking for help from the Skycap at the airport or the bellhop at the hotel can save a lot of aggravation. Remember, this is their job. They know how to lift and use proper body mechanics without injuring themselves. With the excitement and rushing about, this is one of the simplest ways to avoid spine injuries.
Change your position frequently.
Even individuals who should know better, who have had back pain for a long period of time, will often sit through a three-hour plane trip without getting up once. It is important to change positions every 20 to 30 minutes. Sitting with proper body posture will help. Airplane seats are designed for maximum seating capacity, not for ergonomic comfort. Get up, stretch, walk up and down the aisle, bend, and make sure that you are maintaining a healthy spine during your travels. A rolled up hand towel in the hollow of your back for 20 to 30 minutes can be very effective to help change your spine alignment. If it is a particularly long flight, you could even purchase a special orthopedic backrest which can help to maintain proper spinal alignment.
Exercise while you are away.
We've all heard that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is especially accurate when dealing with spine disorders. Doing exercise to maintain the strength and flexibility of your spine muscles, even while on the road, can be extremely important. Just because you're on vacation does not mean that you can take a vacation from exercise. You will not enjoy family, friends, or activities if you're lying on your back because of spasm or pain. In fact, my patients have told me
that they feel better in general if they do their exercises, and even if they take a swimsuit or an exercise band so they can keep in the habit of being active. Staying healthy helps them enjoy their vacation even more.
Give yourself time.
Although individuals are excited to get to family and friends, the constant rushing increases the stress of the holiday season. With this increased stress comes increased low back pain and spasm. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of the physical and emotional stressors that you are under when you travel. Allow yourself plenty of time for everything! Leave for the airport earlier than you normally would. Try to avoid scheduling flights with only short intervals of time to catch the next flight. Call for taxis 30 to 45 minutes before you actually need them. And remember, you are on vacation. Relax. Don't spend all of your free time running around from place to place; rushing from one "fun activity" to the next is a surefire way to limit your enjoyment of each activity and increase your holiday stress!
From everyone at Neurology Office, Joseph Kandel, M.D. and Associates, Travel Safe and Travel Healthy.
Wishing You and your family Happy Holidays and a New Year of Great Goodness!