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It’s that time of year again when we all pack into the car or on a plane to spend time with our friends and family.
But traveling with back pain can be really challenging. Sitting for long periods of time can cause or aggravate lower back pain. The good news is that it is possible for people with chronic back problems to travel safely and comfortably.
A little extra preparation and care goes a long way. Pack the right stuff — and then have a good time.
Plan your trip to beat back pain
Begin your vacation with careful planning. If you’re going to fly on a plane, plan on checking your bags. Many of the injuries that occur while traveling come from lifting a carry-on bag to the overhead compartments on the plane. The movement always involves lifting with twisting and is extremely difficult to do in a spine-friendly manner.
However, do make sure to carry the medications you need with you. Anti-inflammatories can be particularly effective. The best anti-inflammatory for you is simply the one that works the best.
Commonly used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs include:
You have to experiment to find out which one is correct for you. All of the anti-inflammatory medications have one 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 they have to be taken twice a day and you are less likely to remember. Chewable antacid tablets are typically not as effective.
Bring a brace and use the best posture
If you have a back brace, pack it. If you’re caught on vacation without a brace and have a flare-up, a surprising place to try is a home improvement store. They have back braces that are effective on a short-term basis, do not require a prescription and are inexpensive. Should you wear a back brace on the plane? It depends on the length of the flight. If your flight is more than two hours, the brace is too rigid to sit in one position that long.
Good posture also plays a key role:
- Sit on the plane with your rear up against the base of the chair and a small travel pillow along the lower part of your back.
- Every 20 minutes raise the pillow one or two pillow widths. This has the effect of providing some range of motion, while giving you a slow-motion massage.
- Get up and move around at least every 20 minutes whenever the passenger seat belt light is off.
What to do if pain is severe while traveling
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 five 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 traveling abroad, 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 can enjoy a road trip or long flight to a destination that’s on your bucket list.
Most importantly, have fun. Don’t forget your Medrol Dosepak, oral anti-inflammatories, Prilosec, lumbar support pillow, low back brace, common sense and a big smile.
Phoenix Spine & Joint is here to help
If you have any questions about traveling with back pain or want to learn more about your treatment options, contact us today. We’ll be happy to help you schedule a free second opinion with one of our knowledgeable doctors.
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