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How to Feel Comfortable on a Plane with Back Pain

Learn how to feel comfortable on a plane ride with back pain from physical therapist Eric Sampson in this Howcast video.


One of the big problems that is occurring is the patient population that has to travel or fly frequently for their job, I have some patients that can be flying out of town weekly, or certainly monthly, and the whole process of flying is very difficult on the spine. The spine really wants to remain in what's called an S-shape or a neutral position, where you have an inward curve or a lower lordosis in the cervical, followed by a thoracic kyphosis it's called, and then an inward curve again in the lumbar.

But most of the flight plans are going to require you to do some bending, going to do some carrying, and then of course to do a lot of sitting on the flight, all things that can undo this S-shaped curve. In terms of how to deal with your flight and how to deal with the travel, number one is just trying to maintain an S-shape as best as possible by keeping yourself in the right alignment. With sitting, using the assistance of a lumbar roll, putting it in your lower back is often a very important part of the sitting time of the flight.

Other tips is to get up very, very frequently if you can. I know these days on planes the stewardesses are asking us to sit longer and not get up as frequently, and so we're sort of stuck. But if you can get up, or if you can explain you need to get up and move around, that's going to be very ideal. And then stretching on the plane, it's really tight, but if you can find a place or find some room to stretch your back out, hopefully you've learned a thing or two about how to stretch it you'll go ahead and do it. Typically a backward bend or a backward extension, placing your hand on your hips and bending backwards a few times may help you relieve some of your pain.

Lastly, a tip that I've used for a lot of my patients that seems to be helping, now remember, they're already in a physical therapy program, but I offer a very different option. I offer them to try a lot of stretching and icing pre-flight, or pre-leaving for the airport, trying to put that tissue in your spine in its most optimal state, that way with all the wrongdoings that may occur for the next five hours, you've lessened, you started off in the right spot. You're not starting off in a poor position, and then it's going to further exacerbate during the day. So stretching and icing pre-flight is a great tip to notice that, you know, I'm not having as much pain on this flight as I thought, and get through it.

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