By Dr. Kristen Jayson, PT, DPT
Summer is finally here, the season many of us look forward to most; warmer temps, longer days and vacation! Whether it’s taking that five-hour road-trip to your family reunion or flying overseas, travel goes hand in hand with prolonged sitting, which can create pesky aches and pains or exacerbate pain you may already be experiencing.
Fortunately, I have some tips and exercises below to help you arrive PAIN FREE!
For every 30 minute period, 8 minutes should be spent standing, 2 minutes moving around and only 20 minutes sitting still. This may not work perfectly for a road trip, but it’s certainly doable at cruising altitude on a plane or even after you arrive and you’re happily on your beach chair all day (ahhhh!). Even if you can’t easily move around, here are some other suggestions to help you feel great when you arrive.
Maintain Good Posture
Sitting and slouching puts extra stress on the ligaments and soft tissue structures in our lower back, which can cause pain. To make sure you’re sitting in a proper position, do this quick test periodically:
- Slouch forward into bad posture, hold for 1-2 seconds.
- Sit up very straight, pulling your shoulders down and back, hold for 1-2 seconds.
- Relax 10-15%! This is now your ideal position for sitting.
If you’re driving, it’s a great idea to use your rear-view mirror for feedback. If you check your mirror and can’t see much, you know you need to correct your posture. Another good tool while traveling is a lumbar roll that provides a little extra support to your low back, which helps maintain proper positioning.
Movements That Work
Stretching during travel is an excellent way to stay loose and comfortable. The exercises below are also effective when you return to work, but let’s not think about that now.
When given the opportunity for a rest stop, park far away from the entrance so you get a chance to stretch those legs and move around. When you get out of the car, you can combat low back pain by doing some standing back bends to redistribute pressure across the intervertebral discs and ease tension on the surrounding structures.
- With feet about shoulder width apart, place your hands on the small of your low back
- Gently lean backwards at your waist, keeping your knees straight, until you feel a gentle stretch, hold for a few seconds and then return to an upright position
- Repeat 5-10 times
It’s also important to stretch your hamstrings, the muscles along the back of your thighs, which can tighten with prolonged sitting.
- With the car door open, place one leg up on door or on a bench
- Keep your hips pointing directly forward
- Gently lean forward keeping the elevated leg straight
- Hold 30 seconds, 3 times and then repeat on other leg up
Get some blood pumping through your legs with heel raises!
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart and hold onto something for support if necessary
- Lift both heels up, rising onto toes, pause for 1-2 seconds
- Slowly lower both heels back down to the ground
- Repeat 10 times, do 2 sets
If you’re unable to get out of your seat, you still have some options. Instead of standing heel raises, you can pump your ankles back and forth for the same effect.
- Point your toes all the way to the ground, and then pull up towards your face as far as you can
- Repeat for 2 sets of 10.
Neck and Shoulder Stretches
The lower back isn’t the only joint affected by prolonged sitting. If you feel a stiff neck coming on, perform some chin tucks to wake up the muscles that are responsible for holding up our heavy heads all day. You can also roll your shoulders forwards and backwards to help loosen the muscles along the top of your shoulders. Last but not least, stretch out those shoulders and chest.
- Looking straight ahead, slowly move your head backwards as far as you can go keeping your eyes and chin level
- Maintain this position for 3-5 seconds and then relax
- Repeat 10 times, do 2 sets
- Relax your arms at your sides
- Slowly circle your shoulders up and back then lifting up and forwards
- Repeat each direction 10 times
Posterior Capsule Shoulder Stretch
- Reach one hand across your chest, reaching for your opposite shoulder
- Use the opposite arm to grab the back of your elbow and gently pull your arm towards your chest until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your shoulder
- Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 3 times with each arm
- Reach behind your lower back with both arms, if you’re able to grasp your hands together or grab onto the chair
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together, lifting your chest up the ceiling, until you feel a stretch across your chest
- Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 3 times
I hope you have some great travel plans this season to practice these easy movements and stretches. Have a safe and healthy summer!!!
- Treat Your Own Back and Treat Your Own Neck, by Robin McKenzie