Avoid Back Pain When Flying

Ask Your Doctor/Chiropractor For Help.

Your doctor or chiropractor may be able to write you a letter for your airline and flight crew. A letter to explain your condition may be enough to persuade the crew to allow special accommodations i.e. upgraded to more legroom, allowed to lie on the floor during long flights, given extra blankets and cushions, or to be allowed to walk around as often as you need.

 

Contact the airline.

Weeks before your trip, call the airline to inform them you have a medical condition. With advance notice, they might be able to:

 

  • Provide you with wheelchair assistance and early boarding.
  • Have airline personnel carry your luggage and/or lift it into the overhead bin for you.
  • Accommodate you with special shuttles and elevator platforms for boarding.
  • Give you tips for traveling (and getting through security) with your transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit.
  • Allow non-medical assistants to accompany you through security and boarding.

 

Strategically Schedule Your Flight.

When you book your flight, think about the type of schedule that will be the least stressful.

 

  • Consider taking a flight when there will be fewer people on board and more room for you to lie down across seats. Contact the airline prior to scheduling a flight and let them know of your back pain. They may be able to provide you with more insight on when flights tend to be very crowded and much lighter.
  • Try to limit the down time between in-flight connections or layovers, if applicable.
  • Don't schedule a flight that will require you to wake up extremely early, as people are generally a lot stiffer when they first wake.

Medication

  • See your GP or pharmacist to see what medications they recommend for your travels.
  • Take your recommended pain medication around one hour before your flight, to give it time to get into your system.
  • Carry your pain medications together in a clear plastic bag and have them on you at all times, in case you need them during the flight.
  • Inform flight attendants that you are on medication. This way they can monitor you if necessary.

 

Use Supports

  • If you have lower back pain, providing support behind your lower back with a back roll or even a couple of pillows, is a good way to prevent slumping or slouching in your chair which aggravate your pain.

  • Neck pillows can help on board to help with neck pain.

  • Back braces, tube-shaped pillows with microfibers inside, and other supports can be purchased to help provide relief. Ask your chiropractor for advice on the best type for you.

Watch Your Posture

  • If you have long legs, request an exit row or bulkhead seat, which generally has more leg room.
  • Move around at least once every 30 minutes to an hour during the flight. Staying stationary for prolonged periods of time stresses the spinal discs, ligaments and muscles aggravating your pain.
  • See if there is room at the back of plane to do some quick stretching, which can provide more flexibility to the back and ease stiffness. Just be sure not to get up during turbulence.

Hot and Cold

Acute strain joint sprain injuries generally respond better to a cold compress. Ice packs (bag of frozen peas etc) slow blood flow and in turn reduce any increase inflammation, swelling and pain.

Heat does the opposite (increases blood flow) and is good for muscle spasms, and chronic joint pains such as arthritis, using a hot water bottle or wheat bag.

  • Wrap in kitchen towel/pillow case, to prevent direct contact with the skin, as that can cause heat or ice burns.
  • Apply for 15-20 minutes on the affected area/s, and this can then be
  • Repeat every 1-2 hours.

 

Both should feel comfortable, not painful, if this is the case the packs are either too hot/cold, and a thicker barrier should be used i.e. towel, until the temperature is comfortable but can still be felt.

 

NB: Do not use if you suffer from diabetes or poor circulation.

 

  • Stock up on inexpensive heating options like ThermaCare heat wraps or warm gel packs and apply them while in the air.
  • Bring an empty hot water bottle and ask the flight attendant to fill it up during your flight.
  • Carry a small gel pack on the plane and have the flight attendant store it in the fridge when you are not using it. 
  • Have a Ziploc bag on hand and ask the attendant to fill it up with ice that you can apply to your back.

Be sure to check in with the airline to see what items are acceptable to carry on.

Happy travels to you!

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