Travel Tips for Back Pain Relief

Whether you regularly suffer from back pain or not, travelling can often be a pretty tough go of it for many of us. Whether it's via bus, train, plane, boat or car...the key is to be proactive to avoid unnecessary discomfort.

So after getting back from a good amount of travel myself, I noticed for the first time that I wasn't in a complete mess reaching for anti-inflammatories or complaining about it to anyone in earshot (I'm a sook with back pain). So, here are 5 tips to help keep the back pain away whilst travelling so you can enjoy the trip!

1. Stand More

If you know you're about to be stuck in a seat for an extended period of time, try not to spend even more time sitting in the lead-up! At the airport we would constantly see the same pattern: people sitting until they were called to the gate, then they stand and grimace/stretch their backs, then they take a couple of steps to the gate so they could go sit some more (at least they stretched!).

There are some studies that make the rounds warning us of the effects of extended sitting, but we don't need to read them to know how we feel-when we sit for too long we tend to pay for it.

So if you have the ability to spend less time sitting, use it as best you can. Walk, run, skip, stretch, stand, kneel, half doesn't matter all that much. The idea here is that we switch things up when we can.

2. Breathe Better

Sitting for long periods often creates a common pattern where we find some strange postures, and if we stay in that position for too long our breathing suffers which leads to uncomfortable patterns of muscle tension. Shallow breathing when in this state of tension prompts the stress response, meaning even more physical and mental tension is headed our way.

The fix here is to take time each hour of travel to quickly scan your body, be aware of your position and then breathe. Taking five really big deep breaths once per hour should be enough to make a difference.

This is why you'll often see breathing to be such a big focus in our gym sessions and it's no different here, how we breathe matters!

3. Stretch Out

Sitting for long periods can mean tight low back muscles and overused hip-flexors. If you want to be more comfortable and avoid pain while travelling, you need to change your position and even stretch out often (Jack wrote a good blog post on posture here). When you're tight for space and time to do this a quick supported warrior hip-flexor stretch usually does the trick. It even helps to do this before, during and after travel however you can fit it in.

Below is a quick stretch flow that can be applied to travel too. The warrior hip flexor stretch is right around the 0:33 mark.

4. Drink Enough

It's really easy to let yourself get dehydrated whilst travelling and it can be one of the things that contributes to the higher chance of soreness and pain. We all know our body is mostly made up of water, and that includes the soft gel like substance between our vertebrae. Being dehydrated decreases joint lubrication and circulation, fast tracking muscle tension and fatigue which doesn't help us with even a bit of back pain. This doesn't mean you just have to drink plain water however, your usual tea and coffee still counts and if you can sneak in something like coconut water for the electrolytes you're doing even better as these electrolytes play a big part in overall function and repair throughout our bodies.

5. Recover (Properly)

I was guilty of this next part on our recent trip. I was exhausted from the long commute, time getting through customs, time waiting for our ride, time spent in traffic and then time getting up to our room, so what did I do? I folded like a wet napkin on to the couch and didn't move for even more time whilst my brain caught up. I've also done this after a decent amount of time in the car, when I really should have been using some more impactful methods of recovering that get me up and going quicker.

My favourite (and this one is also great after a big day on your feet) is lying on the floor with my legs up the wall. It's as simple as that, grab a pillow and make yourself comfortable and get your feet high in the air by placing the on the wall or couch. Changing your relationship with gravity in this way will challenge your blood flow to refresh your lower body. Give it at least 5 minutes with your feet in the air, or until you start to feel pins and needles in your feet, before switching things up if you can. It's so simple and makes such a difference.


1. Stand More

- Don't waste time sitting if you're about to sit some more.

2. Breathe Better

- Take 5 long deep breaths per hour of travel.

3. Stretch Out

-Your next posture is your best posture, stretch and switch.

4. Drink Enough

-Proper hydration equals properly lubricated joints.

5. Recover (Properly)

-Don't just flop on the couch after a commute, get your legs in the air!

Thanks for reading! If you know some people who would benefit from reading this please share it along! Full credits for this information goes to my time with both Jack from Roar Physio and Dana Sander's book, Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.

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