We all know how traveling can wreak havoc on your health routine, but the havoc it wreaks on your back is probably the worst; especially, the long-haul flights where you’re confined to a cabin seat that is poorly designed for lumbar support and for long durations at a time.
Even for me, someone who has a fairly active daytime job, one long-haul return-trip is enough to make my back seize up; enough to make me re-think my flight sitting strategy; enough to make me blog about it!
Now, I fully understand the challenge that my more frequent flyer miles clients have to face!
Ultimately, it’s all about sitting too long with bad lumbar support. The compressive forces on your vertebral discs in your spine is high enough to cause damage when you sit for over 30 minutes. So you can imagine how a 12-hour flight can be quite harmful to your back!
So I’m going to give you some tips on how to best protect your back if you have to frequently fly for long periods of time.
If you can, go business class.
The best option for your back will always be to lie down. Business class seats allow you to recline all the way down. The more horizontal your body positioning is, the less force there is on your spine. The other advantage with business class, is of course you arrive at your destination well-rested. If you can sleep, then you can overcome jet lag easier and you can get better quality sleep through out your trip.
Load up on pillows!
Obviously, not all of us have the luxury of flying business; so the majority of us can employ Tip #2.
Two pillows for the lower back support, and one for the neck was ideal for me. Most flights usually have an excess of pillows that are usually stored in the back of the plane in the overhead compartment. If you’re seated near the back of the plane, you can probably just go and grab a couple more for yourself or just ask your flight attendant for 2 more pillows. Recline all the way back when you can to again, relieve as much force on the spine as possible.
The double pillow effect on the lumbar was just enough for me to keep my natural lower back curvature. Plus, the reclined positioning worked well together to alleviate most of the discomfort in economy seating.
Plan your sleep so that it is in sync with the sleep cycle of your destination time.
I know the online entertainment system can sometimes carry really good films and tv shows, but prioritizing sleep, especially for long-haul flights can really set you off on a good foot for your body to return to its circadian rhythm when you arrive in your destination time zone. This means you will get better quality of sleep during your nights and that will have a positive impact on all aspects of your health which includes your back health.
Use ear plugs and an eye mask.
To further you getting quality sleep, I recommend using ear plugs and an eye mask to really block out other distractions from the plane cabin. Although, most airlines turn down the lights to induce sleep, there can be a lot of ambient light at times from other passengers’ screens or windows that are left uncovered that can make your sleep shallow and interrupted. And all it takes to disrupt you from a long and restful sleep is an infant talking loudly or crying. Any bit of help should be employed to maximize the quality of sleep.
Get up and walk around or stretch.
If you can’t sleep on the plane, then the next best option is to get up and walk around. The damaging effects of sitting too long in bad posture can be attenuated by breaking up the long periods of sitting by getting up and walking up and down the corridor. Walk down to the cabin crew’s quarters where there’s usually a bit more space for you to do some stretches. Anything really will help to wake up the muscles and improve your blood circulation. Do this as frequently as you can handle through out the course of the flight.
In the end, traveling will always take away from your healthy routines which you have established in your home city. But not all is lost. If you adopt a mindset that is still health-focused, then you can mitigate a lot of the negatives of traveling and get back on your healthy routine when you return home.
As I’ve said before, health is a long-term strategy and traveling here and there for work or leisure is only temporary. You may lose some battles, but you will ultimately, win the war!