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Georgie Pauwels
Georgie Pauwels

Even if you were brought up by nuns or were captain in the U.S. Army, maintaining good posture while traveling is nearly impossible. Heavy carry-ons and over-stuffed shoulder bags, combined with long stretches of sitting in ergonomically unfit airline seats, wreak havoc on the spine. If you don’t want to land directly in the chiropractor’s office, here are a few tips to help you protect your back while on the road.

Pack light

It might sound obvious, but bad posture starts with your bags. When it comes to suitcases, the lighter the better. Even if you have to spend a few extra bucks to check another bag, it’s better to bring two smaller suitcases as opposed to one big clunker. Each bag will weigh less, so your body will be balanced while carrying them. And while someone on your flight or train may offer to help you lift your bag, don’t bank on it. You don’t want to be that guy (or gal) who nearly drops his bag on the passenger sitting below. If you plan on taking public transportation from the airport to the hotel, or you know you’ll be carrying the suitcase for an extended length of time, this tip goes double.

Lift with your legs


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If you are doing any heavy, overhead lifting, be strategic about how you lift. Break the action into separate stages: To get the carry-on into the overhead bin, first bring it up to top-of-seat level; then, bend at the knees and engage your leg muscles, rather than your lower back, to get the additional momentum you’ll need to get the bag into the compartment.

Stand, often


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It’s easy to get settled in your seat on a flight — you’re absorbed by a movie, a book, a nap. But remember to get out of the seat frequently and walk around. Sitting still for long stretches of time isn’t good for any part of your body. Additionally, doing in-seat leg and back stretches — like bending forward or lifting toes off the ground to stretch hamstrings — will make post-trip movement smoother.

Sit up straight

This is likely familiar advice; we may not have listened as kids, but as adults, we can appreciate the wisdom behind it. When on an airplane, train, or car seat, try to sit up straight. Tools that may help you do so include posture shirts or annoying posture-tracking sensors that vibrate when you slouch.

BYOBack and foot support

Lumbar support is essential when sitting for a long time. Bring a pillow specifically designed to keep the lower spine in line. If you forget, roll up a sweater or another thick piece of clothing and stick it between the seat back and the small of the back.

Also, because airline seats are not ergonomically designed, consider bringing a footrest. Dangling or stretched-out legs may cause stress on the lower back. When driving, it’s better to rest both feet on the floor than having one foot on the gas. So, if your car is equipped with cruise control, set it up and put your paws on the floor.

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