Back pain and travel – How to make the most of it

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Welcome, and thank you for stopping by.  In this post, I will give you some suggestions for dealing with back pain and travel.  Whether you have sciatic issues, as I do, or just tight muscles, traveling with back pain is not a fun combination. My goal is to share some of my experiences and advice to help make the experience more enjoyable.Back pain and travel, modes of transport

I have been dealing with back problems most of my adult life, so traveling with back pain is something I have struggled with a lot.  I have been in situations where being seated for an extended period was painful.  I have also been in situations where the seated position was the best position for me, but I could not stand up straight.  I know I am not alone, millions of people suffer from back pain.

There have been times when my 45-minute drive to work was very challenging.  I would get to work, and my right foot would be numb, due to the issues I had with my sciatic nerve.  It was rough.  I specifically remember a day when I was less than 5 minutes into my commute, and I wondered if I was going to make it the rest of the way.  I gritted my teeth and tried to find a comfortable position for the rest of the ride.  I eventually made it, but, looking back, that was probably not the best thing to have done.

A word of caution

This post does not apply to every back pain situation, but instead, it can be used as a general guideline.  If you have severe back problems, you should check with your doctor to see if you can or should be traveling.  With my back injury in 2015, my chiropractor told me to postpone a trip we had planned.  Too much sitting was not going be good for my recovery. I needed to lay on my back and ice as often as I could during this recovery time.  So, just a precaution if you are dealing with severe back problems, talk to your healthcare professional before you make plans.

Walking can be helpful for back pain

No matter what mode of transportation you are taking, walking around, just moving your body can be an excellent thing when dealing with back pain.  If you can get up and walk around, that can be very beneficial.  If you are traveling by car, try to plan stops for gas or food every couple of hours so you can stretch out and get the blood flowing again.

For instance, we plan on leaving for our six-hour drive at about 9 am, then we plan to stop at noon, it’s time for lunch, and we can get out and walk around for a bit.  For me, anything I can do to vary my posture can provide some relief.

Driving or flying with back pain

Driving, of course, allows you the opportunity to pull over pretty much at your convenience.  Driving is great if your trip isn’t too long, but if you have a 12-hour road trip ahead of you, sitting for that long even with pit stops may wreak havoc on your back.  You may be better off booking a flight and getting to your destination as soon as possible.Traveling with back pain, car or plane

If you are traveling by plane, I would recommend a few different things.  For me, it’s not a good thing to have to lift a heavy suitcase over my head to get it in the overhead bins.  That can set my sciatica off like nobody’s business. So, I try to pack a lighter load if possible.

Always remember too, if you are lifting, lift with your legs.  You really do not want to just bend over at the waist, and pick up your carryon and put it in the overhead bin.  Lifting with your legs is the best way to handle this.

You can always ask for help from the flight attendant too.  If you let them know ahead of time, usually they are very willing to help.  Do not let ego get in the way of asking for help!

Another idea, when you are flying, try to book a non-stop flight.  A non-stop flight will help to get you to your destination as quickly as possible, rather than spending more time waiting in airports.  More time in airports usually means more time sitting around.

Although if you do have a layover, this might help break up the trip and give you more opportunities to walk around and stretch out.  You know your body and your pain, so these are just some options for you.

Try using a backpack

Another key is I always try to travel with a backpack. Fortunately, they make backpacks for back pain sufferers. A pack works well, and in my opinion better than a single strap bag.  Also, a lot of backpacks come with a laptop sleeve or compartment, and plenty of room for a lot of other gear.

A backpack can be beneficial for a couple of reasons.  First of all, when you wear a backpack, the weight is evenly distributed on both sides of your body.  You are not putting undue stress on one shoulder versus the other one.  Carrying a backpack also allows you to free up both of your hands, just in case you need to use them :). Therefore, evenly distributing weight and hands-free is the way I like to travel.

Plan ahead when traveling with back pain

Another thing to think about when flying on an airplane and something I did just this past summer was to plan ahead and make sure you can get an aisle seat.  I went so far as to pick my seat not only on the aisle but also on a specific side of the aisle.  That would allow me to stretch out my right leg when I needed to.

My right side is my bad side, so I made sure I had an aisle seat where I would have my right side to the aisle.  This strategy helped me to access the aisle when I needed to, and also just stretch out my right leg as required.  Sitting not only on the aisle but the right side of the aisle, was a tremendous help for me.

Packing light helps with back pain

Also, pack as light as you can.  Do you really need all of those electronic devices?  Can you make it with just a couple pairs of shoes, maybe one pair in addition to the pair on your feet?  If you must bring a lot of stuff with you, consider checking a bag, then you save yourself from having to struggle to pick up a heavy carryon to put it in the overhead bin.  Just something to think about, bringing fewer items will be lighter weight and easier to haul around.Packing light helps with back pain

Support for your bad back

Using a lumbar support is something to consider when traveling.  I have used a lot of different lumbar supports in my life.  I used to keep a couple of varieties in my car, so I could keep my lower back supported while driving.

A lumbar support can help maintain the inward curvature of the lower spine and fills the gap between the lower spine and the chair back.  When the lumbar area is appropriately aligned, this allows the discs to do their job of absorbing pressure, for instance, bumps when you are in a car.

If you usually use a lumbar support, make sure you are equipped with one when you travel.  If you don’t typically use a lumbar support, you might want to try one out before your trip and see if that provides any help.

Seat cushions can help to relieve some pain as well.  They are designed to distribute weight to alleviate some of the pressure caused by sitting and help with sciatic pain, pressure on your tailbone, etc.

Bring the heat or ice

If heating your back works for you, then you may want to bring some heat wraps with you.  These will usually last about 8 hours and might be just what you need.  If ice is your style, try carrying a ziplock bag.  You may be able to get some ice from the flight attendant and get the relief you need that way.  Of course at your hotel, you will have access to electricity and ice (LOL), so if you have a favorite heating pad, it might be worth packing it.

Make sure you have enough medication

If you are taking medication for back pain, you will definitely want to make sure you have enough to get through your trip. Personally, I have not had any luck with medication for pain, but I know some people do, and the last thing you want is to be on vacation and have to deal with running out of something that will provide relief.

One cool thing about airports, they may have a masseuse or a massage chair available.  If you are in a pinch, no pun intended, a massage chair can really help loosen up those tense muscles that may be contributing to your back pain in the first place. Or, if you can get your hands on the real thing (or if they can get their hands on you), a masseuse would be even better. There we go with those puns again.

If you are stuck at the airport longer than you had hoped, try using either of these options.  Again, depending on the severity of your back issues, this may or may not be right for you.


I hope to have provided you with some valuable information about travel and back pain.  Some of these ideas are based on my very own experience, others I think are worth considering.  If you need any more suggestions or have comments, please feel free to leave them below or send me an email.

22 thoughts on “Back pain and travel – How to make the most of it”

  1. Great post! I’m a travel blogger a lot of your tips are quite valid. I’m still trying to work out how to pack lighter and find the right backpack. I have minor muscular back aches. When it acts up, I find kinesiology tape works wonders!
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Good advice with the kinesiology tape. It is sometimes difficult to figure out what exactly you are going to need on a trip, so packing light can be a challenge. I have been places and wish I had packed certain things. Other times I completely over pack. Usually it’s over packing when we are road tripping, because I know I have more space. Thank you very much for your comment, I appreciate it.

  2. Hey Steve, I know that a lot of people seem to struggle with back pain. Even I have times when I’ve been sitting for a while and my back starts to bother me.

    I agree that is important to try to get up and walk around when you can and try to avoid lifting heavy things as much as possible. A back pack is also a great idea for traveling.

    I also noticed that you said to use heat and ice. Is there any heat packs in particular that you would recommend? Thanks

    • Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate you leaving a comment. Yes, for travel, I would definitely recommend Thermacare Lower Back Heat Wraps from Amazon. These last for a long time and definitely put out some heat. Thanks for asking about the heat wraps, I can add a link to the post as well.

  3. Hi Steve, Thank you for all the research you have put into this post. I know you suffer with back problems as did I. I Had fusion 23 years ago and it was a complete success. This however, does not prevent me from looking after my back and being as careful as I can. I Gained loads of helpful tips from this post. There is nothing like back pain to make ones life totally miserable, and I don’t want to go down that road again. All the best. Hope you will be able to help a lot of sufferers out there. Blessing, Jill

    • Thank you very much for your comment Jill. Yes, I know how miserable back pain is/can be. I believe for people like you and me, it’s imperative to be very conscious of our backs and do everything possible to maintain a healthy back. I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment.

  4. My wife can’t sit, stand, or lay down for long periods of time. We are trying to plan a trip, but so far haven’t been able to find a means of travel that she would be able to deal with. You mentioned a lumbar support. I think that might help her when she is sitting. Do you have a favorite one?

    • Yes, I can relate to her back pain that is for sure. As for a lumbar support, I am currently working on a related post on just that topic. In the mean time, for travel, this Therm-a-Rest Lumbar Pillow is a great place to start. Thanks for your comment, and I really wish you the best.

  5. Excellent advice on traveling. I think many of us get on an airplane and only get up if we have to use the restroom. Being more conscious of needing to move around would help a lot.

    Have you found a lower lumbar support pillow that has worked well for you when traveling?

  6. Thank you for this great information!! I travel often and find that one of my biggest concerns is neck/back comfort in all form of transportation and with hotel beds/pillows. This article answers so many of my concerns and the solutions to go with it. I can commit to what you are suggesting with no problem, it makes so much sense to be prepared! Thank you!!

    • I am glad you like my post, thanks for leaving a comment. Hopefully, this will be good information for people out there with back problems.

  7. Great article. I have a friend who suffers from backpain so will definitely forward this on to her. She uses a little inflatable seat cushion when traveling. It fits into her handbag and she can whip it out when she needs it and it inflates with just a few puffs. Thanks for sharing, Cheers, Karen

    • Thank you Karen. I am currently working on a post about seat cushions, as this is something a lot of people use for work and travel. I will definitely look for one that is inflatable, that makes a lot of sense for traveling. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, I appreciate it.

  8. Excellent views. Where one might think the backpack would make it worse, the way the weight is distributed does make a lot of sense. I do have back pain sometimes. When I sit for a spell I feel stiff in the back standing up.

    I try to do some exercises from time to time to try to work the muscles back there and it seems to lessen my back stiffness the more I stay on a regular workout with it. But when I stop for a spell it comes back to normal.

    But I will remember all that you said as well to help me lessen the problem.

    • Yes, I love traveling with a backpack, it really makes my life easier. I totally understand getting stiff when sitting for too long, that is why I love to get up and walk around if possible. For some people, this is not an option. Regular back work is a great idea, and I think that is great you are doing that. Thanks for your comment, I appreciate it.

  9. I have a question which could be a good posting questionnaire on Twitter.
    I am now just under 60 years old. I have had major back surgery 3 times. I now have 4 bars and 8 screws in my lower spine. I am far more mobile then you would think. I still play golf. Anyway, I have reached a point in my life where I get no exercise anymore. I mean none. Anything I try to do for a prolonged amount of days even with time off in between my back goes crazy. Meanwhile, as a diabetic, I need to get exercise. The lack of exercise is affecting my blood sugar. I need to find something to break a sweat 4 times a week without being crippled a month later?

    • Wow, I am really sorry to hear about all of your back problems. Three major surgeries has got to be tough. I am really surprised you still play golf, I would think that would be one of the worst things you could do. It definitely sounds like you need to talk to your doctor or chiropractor about what exercises would be good for you to do. You have a variety of conditions that have to be addressed. My suggestion would be to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider. Thanks for stopping by.

  10. Wonderful article! I will be traveling 20 hours by train next week and this advice couldn’t come at a better time.
    I have slight pain in the lower back when sitting for prolonged periods so this information will be fresh in my mind, which will help me to remember to stretch and move around at regular intervals. Thanks for sharing your insight. I will poke around the rest of your site while I am traveling.

    • Thank you for your comment, I appreciate it. Twenty hours is a long time to travel, I hope its something fun. Well, enjoy your trip and I look forward to hearing from you again.

  11. Hi Steve, thank for your tips. I totally agree with packing lighter for the carry-on item. I found it didn’t give me back pain when I switched from the heavy carry-on to a backpack when lifting that myself into the overhead compartment. The information provided is very helpful for those who travel a lot, including me 🙂

    I’ll definitely come back to check out your other posts!

    • Thank you, I appreciate your comment. I have found one of the hardest things is to figure out exactly what I will need on a trip. Especially when I am limited to a backpack or other carry on. I typically try to travel light, but sometimes it is hard. We have even gone so far as to ship a box of stuff to our destination ahead of time. Often times this can be cheaper than checking bags. Thanks again for stopping by.


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