The best thing about summer in Arizona is… getting away from Arizona in the summer! It’s that time of year when Zonies get on a plane, train or automobile and beat the heat.
But traveling with back pain can be really challenging. With all the bending, lifting,and twisting that comes with a really good trip, it’s easy to send your back pain into orbit over planet pain. But people with bad backs certainly can travel safely, and comfortably. A little extra preparation and care goes a long way. You have to plan accordingly. Pack the right stuff. And then have a good time.
Plan Your Trip
Begin your vacation with careful planning. If you’re going to fly and a plane, plan on checking your bags. Most of the injuries my patients have suffered during travel relates a lifting carry on bag to the overhead compartments on the plane. The movement always involves lifting with twisting, and is almost impossible to do in a correct fashion. Make sure to carry medications with you which you may need. Definitely take some anti-inflammatories. The best anti-inflammatory for you —whether it’s alleve, ibuprofen, Celebrex, or Mobic — is simply the one that works the best. You have to experiment to find out which one is correct for you. All of the anti-inflammatory medications have 1 common side effect: extra stomach acid production. If you take anti-inflammatories on a regular basis, you must protect your stomach from developing a bleeding ulcer due to the extra acid. The easiest way is to take Prilosec, once a day. Pepcid and Zantac work too, but you have to be taken twice a day and you are less likely to remember. TUMS and other antacids are not as effective.
Bring a Brace
If you have a back brace, pack it. If you’re caught on vacation without a brace, and unfortunately develop really bad pain, try Home Depot. They have back braces that “kind of” work, do not require a prescription, and are inexpensive. Should you wear a back brace on the plane? Depending on the length of the flight. If your flight is more than 2 hours, the brace is too rigid to sit in one position that long. Good sitting hygiene is important here. Sit on the plane with your bum up against the base of the chair, with a small travel pillow along the lower aspect of your back. Every 20 minutes raise the pillow 1 or 2 pillow widths. This has the effect of providing some range of motion, while giving you a slow-motion massage. Probably the best thing you can do, however, is get up whenever the passenger seat belt light is off at least every 30 min.
Use an Anti-Inflammatory
One of the worst things that can happen is nerve root pain while on a trip. Since nerve root pain is caused by inflammation on the nerve root, you want the strongest anti-inflammatory you can get. The strongest anti-inflammatories are steroids. I often used the steroid Medrol, since it comes in a pack that makes it easy to take over 5 days. So, if you have a history of nerve root pain, carry a Medrol Dosepak with you, just in case. This is especially important if you are going overseas, where access to medications can really be hit or miss.
Just because you have a bad back, doesn’t mean you can’t travel. If you take these precautions, you should feel confident getting out there and checking things off your bucket list. The best way to know if you can do something or not his to think about whether or not you can do it in the gym. If you can do something in your exercise regimen, then you can certainly can do it in everyday life. Have fun. Don’t forget your Medrol Dosepak, oral anti-inflammatories, Prilosec, lumbar support pillow, low back brace, common sense, and a big smile.