You can’t wait to stretch out on a warm beach or hike in one of our nation’s gorgeous national parks. However, traveling to your summer vacation destination can take a toll on your body and trigger aches and pains that mar vacation activities. Sitting in cramped planes, trains, or cars for hours can cause muscle stiffness, fatigue, and stress say experts with the American Chiropractic Association.

“Prolonged sitting can take a toll on your body,” says Scott Bautch of the American Chiropractic Association’s Council on Occupational Health. “Even if you travel in the most comfortable car or opt to fly first class, certain pressures and forces from awkward positions can result in restricted blood flow. One of the biggest insults to your system from prolonged sitting is the buildup of pressure in the blood vessels in your lower legs. Contracting and relaxing the muscles helps the blood flow properly.”

Just like when you participate in an athletic event, you need to prepare for traveling, too. Stretch before beginning and after your journey, or taking a quick walk, can help relieve tension in your legs. If you know you’re prone to muscle pain, consider bringing along cold or hot packs.

Here are some additional tips to prevent travel aches and pains.

Automobile Travel

  • Sit as close to the steering wheel as is comfortable for you. A lumbar support pillow can help you avoid lower back strain. If you don’t have one, you can support your lower back using a rolled-up jacket or blanket in a pinch.
  • Opt for cruise control when possible. Resting both feet on the floor instead of keeping one on the gas pedal provides more support to the lower back.
  • Vary the positions of your hands on the steering wheel to minimize tension. You can start at 3 o’clock and 7 o’clock, then move to 10 o’clock and 5 o’clock. Be conscious of how tightly you are gripping the wheel. Periodically loosening and tightening your grip will help with muscle fatigue.
  • Keep your eyes on the road, of course, but you can prevent tension headaches by varying your focal point while driving. Better yet, when traveling with a partner, take turns driving to reduce fatigue.
  • Take frequent rest breaks. Optimally, you should get out of the car, move around, and stretch every 20 to 30 minutes.

Passengers-on-PlaneAirplane Travel

  • Like in the car, a lumbar support pillow will help maintain the natural curve of your spine. Airplane seats are often short on support in this area. You can improvise by placing an airplane pillow or blanket between the seat and your lower back.
  • Check bags that are too heavy for you to comfortably lift. Move carefully and slowly when you’re moving luggage. Lifting a heavy item is a common cause of back strain. You can avoid this by bending at the knees and using your legs, not your back, to lift. If you have a shoulder bag, switch the shoulder you’re carrying it on every once in a while to reduce the strain.
  • Use care when pushing your things under the seat. Forcing your legs, feet, or arms into an awkward position can result in muscle spasms or strain.
  • Move around as much as you can in your seat, varying your position. If you can, get up and stretch every 20-30 minutes.
  • If you’re feeling tense in the neck or shoulders, check for air vents you can adjust. The drafts they create can result in muscle pain.



American Chiropractic Association. Preventing travel aches and strains.

Miller, R.S. (2005, Dec. 16). Pain-free travel tips.

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