No one wants to start a holiday with an injury. Unfortunately, my inbox features many conversations with clients who needed my help before they even reached their destination.
It can happen to anyone. Cars, trains and planes all put a lot of stress on our bodies and the longer the journey, the higher the risk of injury. To help you enjoy a pain-free holiday, here are some of the travel tips I give to my clients:
Use a good quality backpack
There are many luggage options but none are better than the backpack. By evenly distributing the force across your shoulders, backpacks are far less likely to pull something out of place. Many backpacks also come with a waist strap, which offers even more stability and support.
Just be careful when you’re putting them on. Don’t put on one strap and then swing it across to your other shoulder as this could twist your back. Instead, put both arms through the straps and then lift up with your legs.
If you do have to use wheeled luggage, make sure it has four swivelling wheels instead of two fixed ones so that it’s more manoeuvrable. Pushing the luggage ahead of you is better for your shoulders than dragging it behind you. If you do pull it, regularly alternate hands so that you’re not putting too much pressure on one side of your body.
Don’t overpack your luggage
Unless you do regular weight training, chances are you’re not lifting heavy loads in day to day life. If your luggage is too heavy for you to be able to comfortably carry, you’re at high risk of an injury before you even complete your journey.
An average safe load is around 15kg for men and 10kg for women. Only go above this amount if you have experience safely lifting heavier weights. With airlines accepting luggage up to 30kg or more, it’s easy to overstuff your bags and end up carrying a dangerously heavy weight.
Bear in mind that it’s not just the weight of the luggage that puts you at risk but also how you handle it. Most of us rarely need to lift things above our heads, so be extra careful when loading your bags into overhead storage and use the power in your legs as much as possible rather than overloading your back and shoulders.
Wake up an hour before you leave
Travelling puts your body under a number of unusual stresses, so make sure you take the time to prepare yourself before heading out the door. The worst thing you can do is hop straight out of bed, grab your bags and get in the car, especially if you’re catching an early morning flight.
By giving yourself at least an hour before you leave the house, you have time to walk about, warm up and loosen your muscles. If you have time, squeeze in a big, healthy breakfast and your usual routine of stretches and exercise as well. The day ahead will likely force your body into uncomfortable positions for many hours, so the more energetic and limber you are, the better you’ll be able to cope.
Bring a back support
Cars, buses, trains and planes all have one thing in common: awful seats. While even basic office chairs offer some amount of ergonomic support, you’ll need to improvise when you’re travelling as you’ll be stuck in seats that curve your spine exactly the wrong way.
Lumbar support is the main thing that’s missing, which is the part of a seat that pushes into your lower to back maintain your lumbar curve and keep your pelvis tilted forward (you can read more about sitting posture here). The easiest way to fix this is to roll up a jumper and stick it just above your buttocks to push your spine in the correct position.
There are also specialist cushions available for travelling, from simple foam lumbar supports and neck pillows to inflatable full ergonomic back rests. Prices range from reasonable to ludicrous but it’s worth spending the money on some form of support.
Stretch your legs every hour
The same advice I give to office workers applies to travelling. To prevent back pain from being in a fixed position, get up, walk around and stretch yourself out every hour. And yes, this includes driving. If you’re going to be in the car for hours on end, take the time to stop at a service station and walk around a bit.
Taking these breaks into account will add to your journey time but it’s worth not starting your holiday with a back injury.
One other tip for car journeys: be careful with the swivelling motion when you’re getting in and out of the car as this is an easy way to accidentally twist your back. Rotate your entire body before you step out of the seat with both legs forward.
If you’re travelling soon and want some more travel safety tips, you can get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kam Sowman BSc (Physio) MCSP MHCP
Musculoskeletal and Sports Physiotherapist
For any other questions regarding this topic please do not hesitate to contact me at West London Physio on 0207 937 1628 or email email@example.com