Back Pain and Airplanes

Having a sore back can obviously present some challenges in normal day to day activities.

It can also present challenges in perhaps more unusual activities as well – such as holidays and vacations.  Especially those involving cars, trains, airplanes and long distances.

So, how do you get back pain relief on airplanes ?

Regular readers might have hopefully noticed that I am trying not to complain too much here on this blog about my sore back.  I am merely trying to document my personal experiences with back pain, in the hope that “if it works for me, then it might work for you too”.  I am well and truly on the mend, but I do need to be very careful.

Eagle-eyed readers might recall a post on this blog from about a year ago, where my wife and youngest daughter went overseas and I was not able to go with them, because of my sore back.

Especially eagle-eyed readers might also have noticed that a recent post outlined my then upcoming dramatical adventures – The Crappy King and The Tree.

Recently my family was part of a musical theatre group – Nuworks Theatre – that went on tour overseas.

24 of us from Melbourne, Australia, ranging in age from 14 years old to 60 something, took 3 shows (Snow White, Romeo and Juliet, and Electra) to Germany, England and Wales.

We did 19 performances across 21 days at 11 different venues.

Sharing a stage with my very talented teenage daughters and a group of other exceptional actors and crew was quite simply an incredible experience.  It is one that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

And, as an added bonus, we raised upwards of $4000 for various British and German charities.

In the global scheme of things, Australia is a long way from most other places in the world.

Flights from the east coast of Australia to Asian countries usually take 7 or 8 or 9 hours.  Flights to Europe generally take upwards of 25 hours.  Add in a stopover or two, and it is not uncommon to get close to 30 + hours of travelling.

This long distance travel presents significant challenges to those with back pain – myself included.

An obvious caveat and disclaimer needs to be inserted here.

I am NOT a doctor.

I am not a medical professional of any kind.

I have played in a band with a doctor and a physiotherapist, years ago, but this hardly makes me qualified to offer any advice what so ever.  Your situation is most likely to be entirely different from mine.  Proceed with extreme caution !

So, with that in mind, to follow is what I did and what worked for me and my lower back pain while spending a long time on various planes, trains and automobiles.

Here are my tips for back pain relief on airplanes.

Sitting Sucks.

My travel budget is disappointingly small.  As is most peoples, I suspect.

This means the chances are high that on the very rare occasions you do go on an airplane, you are likely to travel in the cheap seats at the back of the plane – like me.

Of course the fold down bed in 1st Class and Business Class look wonderful on the brochure.  The reality, however, is much more likely to be a long flight sitting in a cramped upright position.

So – this leads to a sore back rather quickly.  At least it does in my case.

First and formemost, for me with my recovering lower back disc protrusion, is some extra lumbar support.

One of those plane pillows that the airline will probably hand out will do.  Or the folded up blanket.  Make sure it is firmly and evenly wedged between your lower back / lumbar area and the seat back.

If possible, recline your seat just a little…..certainly not all the way back as far as it will go.  This is not only annoying for the person behind you, but also will become uncomfortable very quickly.

Sitting up straight puts an extra strain on an already tired back.  But angling your seat slightly, combined with the pillow/blanket/lumbar support will help provide some relief and stability and support for your lower back.

From there, the trick is to then try to keep moving.

Stretch your legs out as far as they will go – given the likely space constraints of your seat – as often as you can.  Every few minutes.

Flex your feet forwards and backwards, one foot at a time.  Often.

Wriggle from one butt check to the other.  Shift your sitting position around.

Again, given probable space restrictions, can you take some of your body weight onto your forearms on the arm rests ?

Wiggle your toes.

Stretch your arms up high, while carefully and slowly arching your back slightly forwards and backwards.

Drink lots of water.  This has the added bonus of not only keeping you hydrated, but also fills your bladder, which in turn provides an opportunity or excuse for the next suggestion…..

Get up out of your seat and go for a walk.  Often.

Do some laps of the plane – up one aisle and down the other.

Find a space – perhaps in the kitchen area, perhaps outside the toilets, perhaps next to your seat and do some simple, gentle leg and foot exercises.

Stand on tip toes, slowly, up and down 10 times.

Do some slow knee raises, one leg at a time.

Slowly and carefully try marching on the spot.  Don’t bump into other passengers !!

Try to raise your foot and heel up to your butt, one leg at a time, stretching your upper leg muscles.  Hold on to something while trying this.

Stand for as long as possible, regularly and often.  I tried to sit for an hour, then stand / walk for half an hour.

Stopping for a couple of hours at an airport half way to your destination ?  Great !

Get off the plane, go for a walk in the transit lounge, then lie down flat on the floor somewhere out of the way.  Repeat every half hour – 10 minutes walking, 20 minutes lying down.

We actually deliberately booked our flights from Melbourne to London, with stops at both Brunei and Dubai.  This effectively broke the flight up into three sections, each approximately 8 flying time.

Yes, we could have taken a bit less time overall, with one less stop.  However, I was concerned, as were my wife and daughters, that I wouldn’t last the distance.

So, while the total travel time was a bit longer overall, it was certainly a lot less painful than I was expecting.

Maybe it might be a good idea to stop over somewhere for the night – if time and budget allows.  Our time constraints did not allow us to do this, hence the long journey broken into three sections.

My final suggestion is to take some anti-inflamatory over-the-counter tablets/pills/drugs.  Be extremely careful here, as many foreign countries have rules and laws about this.  If they are perscription tablets, make sure you’ve got a copy of the actual perscription, signed by your doctor !!

Do you have any suggestions for keeping back pain at bay while travelling on a long flight ?

What do you do if you are on a long journey to help your back pain ?

What do you do for back pain relief on airplanes ?

Please leave your comments or suggestions below, and please feel free to share this article 🙂



P.S.  With a bit of luck, I might have a couple of international flights next year, one of which might be as a performer at the Edinburgh Festival with Nuworks….. fingers crossed !