With Christmas fast approaching many of you will be planning your holidays to visit family or friends or perhaps to take a well deserved break away. For those of you with back pain, the long flights or car travel time can make you nervous about how it may affect your enjoyment of the trip. If you have had a painful episode of back pain you will remember how sitting for long periods of time may have exacerbated your pain. However with these tips for airplane or car travel you can rest assured you are doing everything to care for your back and enjoy your time away!

Travelling by Airplane

  • Use Low back support – place a rolled up towel, lumbar support or blanket between your lower back and chair to support the natural curvature of your spine.
  • Place your feet flat on the floor – having your feet flat on the floor will provide additional support to your lower back. Keep your knees at right angles. If your chair is too high then place your feet on something to act as a footrest to minimise stress on your low back.
  • Ask for an aisle seat – this will allow you to get up and move around more easily and frequently during the duration of the flight.
  • Get up and move regularly – even if you don’t get an aisle seat it is important to move around every 30 minutes where possible to improve blood flow, reduce stiffness and improve mobility.
  • Stretch during the flight – stretching your hamstrings and hip flexor muscles may help to reduce tension during the long flight, which may otherwise cause shortening or tightening of these muscles.
  • Drink water – keeping well hydrated is always important and travelling is no exception even though you may need to make frequent trips to the bathroom (which will allow you to get up and move around a little more!)
  • Hot/Cold packs – there are disposable and portable hot & cold packs that either heat up instantly after you open them or that you crack to get cold. Always check with the airlines first before packing these.
  • Speak to your GP if you think you may require pain relief medication or muscle relaxants whilst travelling.

Travelling by Car

  • Plan your trip – ensure you stop and have regular breaks to allow you to get out and move regularly.
  • Pack an ice pack in the esky – an ice pack is a great pain reliever when applied for 10-20 minutes and may be enough to get you to your destination comfortably.
  • Sit correctly in the car – ensure you are sitting squarely in the car seat, with your knees at right angles or slightly higher than your hips and keep your chin tucked in to avoid forward head posture.
  • Use low back support – use the chair’s low back support if available or place a rolled up towel or lumbar support between your low back and chair to support the natural curvature of your spine.
  • Avoid turning to look over the back seat or to one side for long periods of time (understandably difficult with children in the backseat on a long journey).
  • Adjust your position every 15-30 minutes – just making slight adjustments to how you are sitting by moving your arms or shrugging your shoulders up/down, forward/back may be enough to reduce stiffness and soreness.
  • Empty your pockets – avoid sitting on your phone, wallet or anything else that will prevent you from sitting evenly on your ‘sit bones’.
  • Massage – if you have a willing and capable participant (i.e child) in the backseat you may even request a shoulder massage to relax your tight neck muscles.


  • Minimise your luggage – use smaller bags rather than one or two heavy bags to minimise heavy lifting and strain on your lower back.
  • Use a backpack – ensure any weight is distributed evenly over both shoulders rather than over one shoulder. This will be important if you are ‘out and about’ whilst away. This also frees up your hands to hold onto rails whilst on escalators, stairs or boarding ramps if balance is a consideration.
  • Avoid twisting whilst lifting – always lift with your knees bent, keeping your luggage close to your body and never twist whilst bending and lifting.
  • Avoid over reaching – when travelling in the car, ensure you have everything you need close by to avoid reaching into the backseat. This rotation whilst sitting may aggravate your low back pain or neck pain.

Finally, remember to keep your exercise routines whilst away. Holidays are often a great break from normal routines. However regular movement is often key to preventing or reducing back pain.

Wishing you a safe, healthy and happy holiday with your loved ones.

Article written by Dr Melanie Woollam (Osteopath)