Plane trip tips

Traveling tips

Frequent flyer programs are tempting. Cheap tickets and perks here and there are good but back pain, neck pain, headaches, sciatica like problems, tension in the back certainly is not one of them! There was a time that we talked about work behind the desk as the main contributory factors to back pain but in today’s society, it is not just desk work that negatively impacts our back and spine.

What are different types of back pain?

Back pain can be acute with less than 1 month, sub acute from 1-3 months and chronic with more than 3 months in duration. It can range from mild to severe, constant or come and go, achy, sharp, numb or pins and needles. Most back and neck problems, however, come from muscles and ligaments, joints and nerves being overused and under stress.

What to do if flying

When flying, there are some things to be aware of. With the sheer number of people flying every day and the number of delays, it is easy to sit for more than the number of hours on a plane. To make the best of it, every chance you get, walk around, move or simply shift your weight from side to side.

How to minimize the amount of damage from flying

  • Book your flights at off peak times to avoid the obvious.
  • Save the agony and book with no connections or flights with shorter layovers.
  • Select an aisle seat so you can easily get up, move around or stretch during the flight.
  • Be aware that the very last row and the row in front of an exit row do not recline.
  • Get the carry-on or luggage that spin on all directions.
  • Push the carry-on or your luggage instead of pulling. It is easier on your shoulders and upper back.
  • Use both hands to push the luggage or carry-on and doesn’t care if it looks funny. Walking with a limp looks worse!
  • Pack light!!


  • Remember you are with a carry-on or a luggage so give yourself enough room for the new ‘size’ you have. Don’t try to maneuver in tight places.
  • If you have to lift your luggage or carry-on, lift is stages! That means put your carry-on, for instance, on your chair and then on the overhead bin. Do the reverse when taking it out of the bin.
  • Bend your knees, engage your ‘barrel’ and use your leg muscles and the whole torso when lifting. Check out this video to see what I mean by ‘barrel’.
  • Minimize twisting the torso while lifting. Here is a sample video of how to start building the right muscles to minimize the torso twisting in general but check out the posture playlist on my YouTube channel for a bunch of more ‘how to’ videos.


  • Sit all the way in the back of your sit and elongate your spine. Bend your hips and let your torso be against the back of the seat. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor and not trying to accommodate the bag you are storing under the front seat.
  • Use a travel pillow to let your neck rest.
  • Use your jacket or alternate the travel pillow for your neck to fill in the gap in your lower back. You can always buy those inflatable supports online too.
  • Don’t use the seat belt above or on your belly.

During The Flight:

  • Get up and move as much as possible! at least every 30-45 minutes on longer flights.
  • Get up and go to the back of the plane to stretch, if possible.
    • Seated push offs: Make a fist and try to push yourself off the seat while bending the head down. Of course, if you have issues like shoulder pain or have a hard time balancing yourself, then skip this one!
    • Figure 4 Stretch which is similar to the office version of Piriformis muscle. Hold for 20 seconds and do 3-4 times on each side. (fast forward to 3:07 for this stretch).
    • Sitting hamstring stretch: Sit at the edge of your seat and straighten one leg in front of the body and then switch over to the other side
    • Hold both legs with the knees straight and hold for 30 seconds while you are seated all the way to the back and your spine is elongated.
    • Move your wrists, ankles and neck in circles.
    • Do these neck exercises while seated.

When getting home

It is easy to want to lay on the bed or couch and watch TV. This is probably not a bad idea! Give yourself a chance to stretch your whole body. When it comes to stretching afterward, all extension type of exercises are your best options. You can do the same neck stretching the video above shows. It is a good idea to stretch your hip flexors since they have overworked the whole time you sat. My most favorite kind is this one:

Don’t forget about your shoulders!! The shoulder joint is probably the least stretched joint with office workers. There are essentially 3 positions to focus on. One is with your elbow being at the same level as your shoulders, grabbing the back of your elbow and bringing it across your neck and to the other side. Next is to bend the elbow and bring it above the head, then grab that elbow and push it toward the back of your head as if to stretch the triceps. The last is to bring your bent elbow behind you and try to grab the hand on that side with the opposite hand by reaching behind the neck and grabbing it. When it comes to stretching always remember that the only joint you should feel the stretching at is the joint you are working on. Always do a quick check to make sure for instance you are not turning your body as you are doing your around the neck shoulder exercise.

Little things add up and you should not disregard the long term impact of your lifestyle on some of your major health issues or concerns. You are the Designer and the Director of your own life so design and direct it the way you wish to live it.

Dr. Shakib