Posted by Douglas W. Stoddard MD, M Sp Med, Dip Sport Med, ES on 6 February 2017

Bags are packed and you’re eager to escape the cold clutches of winter. Whether you’re destined for sand or sea, travelling by plane or car, follow these simple steps to ensure that your body is ready to keep up!

Snow and Sand

These uneven terrains place added stresses on the body that many of us don’t encounter at our daily desk jobs. Without strong balance and strength in the hip and ankle’s stabilizing muscles, physical activities in these environments could leave you prone to injury throughout the lower body and back.

Balance: Proprioception is the body’s sense of awareness for joint position and movement. Previous injury, surgery, or pain lasting more than a couple days can all interfere with the function of joint receptors responsible for this awareness, ultimately predisposing the body to faulty movement patterns. Simple exercises to increase this ability can be added into your daily life, such as:

  • Single leg stands: Try a pillow for an added challenge as this gets easier! Suggested sets: 5 repetitions, holding for 10-20 seconds, twice daily.

Hip Stability: The hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint with the ability to move through three planes of motion. In comparison, the knee and ankle joints are more restricted with respect to mobility due to the nature of the bones and soft tissue structures that comprise these joints. Build stability and control at the hips to alleviate unnecessary stresses off the lower body with this simple exercise:

  • Clam Shells: lying on your side, position your hips at a 45-degree angle with knees bent to approximately 90 degrees. Keep your hips and feet stacked on top of each other, and your trunk facing forwards, while you rotate your top knee towards the ceiling. Suggested sets: 2-3 sets of 15 repetitions, daily.

Appropriate Footwear: While the comfort and convenience of flip flops may sound appealing on a beach vacation, this unsupportive choice may change your gait pattern and could be a major contributing factor to foot or lower body discomfort.  Studies have found that those wearing flip-flops take shorter steps, and curl their toes excessively to keep the shoe on their foot. Shoes with an arch support, heel cushion, and secure attachment to the foot are smarter options to prevent common foot conditions such as plantar fasciitis.

Road Trips

Prolonged periods of driving are commonly vilified as the initial cause, or a major aggravating factor, of lower back pain. This could be related to the position or design of the seat. When the seat is positioned further away from the steering wheel and tipped backwards, the hamstrings are put on stretch. The hamstrings then drag the pelvis into a posteriorly-tipped position, as they attach to the lower aspect of this bone at the base of our spine. Muscles and other soft tissues that attach at the upper aspect are in turn stretched out when the pelvis position is altered. Loss of the natural curve in our lower spine, the lumbar lordosis, is another common cause of low back discomfort while driving.

Consider the following tips to protect your back while driving:

Make stops every 1-2 hours to get out of the chair for several minutes. In standing, perform lower back extensions to restore balance to the body. With hands on back of the hips, arch backwards to increase the curve of your lower back while keeping knees straight and neck in neutral position. Pause at the end of range and slowly return to starting position. Aim to perform 10 repetitions at every rest stop!

Use a lumbar support. If the chair seat does not include one, lumbar rolls can be purchased and easily strapped into place at belt height. Ensure that lower back is positioned against the support for duration of the drive to help cue the entire spine into a more optimal posture.

Seat Position:

  1. Thighs should be supported on the seat, without undue pressure on the back of the knee that could restrict circulation.
  2. Hips should be in line with the knees, not below. This will help to reduce vibrations from the road that have been associated with injury.
  3. Pedals: Seat should be adjusted such that pedals can be comfortably reached without having to move lower back from the cushion.
  4. Position seat at an angle of 100-110 degrees to reduce pressure on the vertebral discs.

Air Travel

Plane travelling can be both mentally and physically exhausting, even if the flight is only a couple of hours. The following tips should be considered to feel your best as you arrive at your destination:

Get up and move around regularly. It is well known that air travel is associated with increased risk of blood clots (deep vein thrombosus). Decrease your risk by getting up from your seat every 1-2 hours, or by performing ankle pumps/circles in your chair regularly to improve circulation.

Drink lots of water. The humidity in air cabins is less than the humidity associated with the air indoors when on the ground. Drinking water throughout the flight can help to combat dehydration and other common side effects such as dry eyes and difficulty breathing. Pack an empty water bottle in your carry on and fill it up once past security gates.

Pack only necessities in your carry on. Larger baggage is stowed in overhead compartments once on the flight. Reaching overhead to place baggage away can place a lot of strain on the shoulders, neck and back, especially as the object gets heavier. Posture and lifting mechanics are also important to keep in mind. Remember to stand close to baggage that needs to be lifted from the ground to minimize reaching; hinge forwards at the hips rather than arching the lower back, and use your legs to produce the power necessary to complete these and other similar tasks.

Our SEMI clinics can help you recover from the aches & pains associated with travel, from utilizing Active Release Techniques, to orthopedic consultation, and more.

To set up an appointment with one of your personal trainers, Contact us at 1-855-572-9177, or visit one of our locations!