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5 Top Tips For Flying With Less Back Pain

Holiday season is now upon us and we are either thinking about booking a last minute get away or have had our trip of a life time booked for months or maybe you booked it last year. Your excitement is building but do you have that niggling worry in the back of your mind that your back might not cope with lifting the suitcases and sitting in those cramped small airplane seats for more than a couple of hours. Let’s face most of us don’t have the funds to upgrade to the lay down comfort of first class.


Sound familiar?


Yep this has been me in the past too! It takes a lot of planning and fore thought when you either have a current back problem or know your back does not travel well. So, in this article I’ve put together some top tips from the physio rooms in my clinic and from my personal experience on how to travel and limit any problems.


For a lot of people as soon as they check their bags in it’s a case of let’s get to the bar for a drink and some food and let the holiday begin! And to quote the Cliff Richard song “We’re all going on a summer holiday” for most of us it’s a case of no more worries for a week or two or maybe longer if you are going long haul.


For others there is dread and fear wondering if their back will hold out firstly lifting the suitcases in and out of the car, then dragging them through the airport to the check in desk. And this is just phase one to worry about. The next is how will my back cope squashed in to the tiny, hard seats with little leg room and squeezing past the person sitting next to you and ducking under the overhead lockers to get to your seat. All of these things have to be considered if you are a back pain sufferer and can leave you wondering if you will actually get to enjoy your holiday.


So let’s get to my 5 top tips for travelling with less discomfort


1. Book direct flights where possible  


If you are going long haul, try and go direct. Stop overs may work out cheaper but booking direct flights cuts the time in the air down and cuts out the need to heave and drag those suitcases and bags around more than is necessary.


2. Carry a towel, blow up lumbar roll or thick jumper in your hand luggage


A small towel, blow up lumbar roll or thick jumper can all be used to make a lumbar roll. Using a roll and placing it in your low back will help stop your back slouching in to the seat and help you keep your spine in good posture. I’ve done this every time I fly. I use my cardigan to make a roll and put it between my low back and the seat back. I find airplane seats are too dipped in for me and makes my back really sore so filling the gap with a rolled cardigan really helps with that.


3. Get up and move around


We all know the human body is made to move. No different on a flight. Even if your flight is only 1-2 hours long get up every 30 minutes if possible and have a walk up and down the aisle of the plane, so you can get the blood pumping around your body, move those muscles and joints so they don’t get stiff and just get out of that chair shape position.


If you are a nervous flyer and don’t like to leave your seat just try some neck stretches, reach your arms up above your head to stretch your shoulders and do some pelvic tilts, seated heel and toe lifts in your seat. Another good one is to reach your hands between your legs down towards the floor taking some slow quiet deep breaths in and out reaching your hands further with each breath. This will help you get some gentle movement in your mid back and ribcage and help relax your back muscles. (See picture). Do 5 breaths every 30-60 mins.


4. Request an aisle seat or front row seat


Either an aisle seat or front row seat is great for back pain sufferers. Why? An aisle seat allows you to get up and move about without having to stoop over to move out of your seat so as to not hit your head on the overhead lockers. It also allows you to get up and move around little and often without disturbing your fellow travellers.


A front row seat is great for the same reasons but has the added advantage of leg room, so you can stretch those knees and ankles.


5. The carry on case


If you do pack a carry on case or bag, make sure it as light as possible. Every extra item you think you NEED (or really do you need it?) will add extra weight for you to lift in to the overhead locker or drag around the airport with you until you board the plane. Make life easier for yourself and either pack light carry on or check in that extra case that you know you won’t be able to lift easily over your head.


If you are a bag person rather than a carry on suitcase person, my advice to you is use a rucksack. Yes, I know these may not look as glamourous as a Gucci over the forearm bag, but your back will thank for you it. Keep the rucksack as small as possible so you are not carrying large loads on your back and please use both shoulder straps, so you can distribute the load evenly and stay as symmetrical as possible.


If you want more tips to ease back pain, you can download my free report that shows you ways to ease back pain naturally – it has some helpful exercises inside too which you can use on your holiday. Click the link below to get your copy and take it with you when you travel:


Wendy is the founder of The South East’s Leading Specialist Private Physiotherapy Practice for People in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, who want to keep healthy and active.

Wendy’s background includes working as an Extended Scope Practitioner Physiotherapist working as part of Mr. Ali Al-Sabti’s Orthopaedic Consultant’s team specialising in Shoulder Pain.

Wendy has treated royalty for Shoulder pain through referrals from her close links with a top Orthopaedic Shoulder Surgeons. More recently Wendy has been the sole choice physiotherapist for all Essex based referrals from London Shoulder surgeon Mr. Matthew Sala.

Wendy worked in National Level Rugby Union for 11 years, working with players who achieved county honours and representative honours for various countries such as England, Samoa, Australia and New Zealand. Wendy resigned from her position as Head Physiotherapist at Southend RFC in June 2011 to open WDC which has become the fastest growing clinic in the South East of England.

WDC is now a large multi-therapist speciality practice in Southend-on-Sea, Essex.



Wendy founded WDC in September 2006. She has worked in both the public and private sectors. Within the NHS, Wendy worked as a Senior Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist and an Extended Scope Practitioner Physiotherapist as part of an Orthopaedic Consultant’s team specialising in Shoulder Pain. Wendy has treated royalty for Shoulder pain through referrals from her close links with a top Orthopaedic Shoulder Surgeon. More recently, Wendy has been the sole choice physiotherapist for all Essex-based referrals from London Shoulder surgeon Mr Matthew Sala. Wendy also worked within the national rugby union as the head physiotherapist for Southend Rugby Football Club. She led the medical service at the club for 11 years, working with players who achieved county honours and representative honours for various countries such as England, Samoa, Australia, and New Zealand.
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