Vets Corner

Summer Travel Tips to Protect Your Back

With summer travel just around the corner, here are some tips to help you arrive at your destination free of back pain despite cramped seats, long lines and little legroom. Not all seat adjustments will work for everyone. The important thing is to make sure that the seat is comfortable for the individual. Some ideas:

Stretching – Staying stationary for too long stresses the spine and can worsen existing pain and aches. If you move every 20 minutes to an hour, you will keep your body in proper alignment and prevent fatiguing from prolonged sitting the muscles in the back and neck.

Posture – The goal with posture is to make sure there is minimal effort coming from the muscles to hold any stance or position. Try to ensure your head is kept level over your pelvis and your neck is not craning forward. Keep your gaze about 15 to 30 degrees off the horizon by slightly looking down to prevent overexertion of your neck muscles. Try not to bend your knees and hips more than 90 degrees so the large muscle groups in the lower back and pelvic areas are not at a disadvantage in the resting state. And try to keep your feet planted on the ground.

Lifting – While lifting a suitcase, try to lift with your legs. Evenly distribute your weight and avoid overfatiguing the muscles.

Back/Neck Support – For those with lower back pain, placing a pillow behind your back can help prevent slouching during the flight. Likewise, neck pillow can help prevent strains and provide support to the neck muscles.

Take short, frequent walks to keep the muscles and joints active, preventing tension from building up in the lower back and hips. Get up and walk at least once an hour. When flying or traveling by train or bus, request an aisle seat in advance to make moving regularly easier and less disruptive to other passengers.

Stretch the hamstrings by placing one foot in front of the body, such as on a seat in an airport or train station, and gently leaning forward until a stretch is felt in the back of the thigh. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Stretching the hamstrings can reduce muscle tension that pulls on the lower back and worsens back pain.

Do simple neck stretches by slowly bending the ear to the shoulder and holding for 15 to 30 seconds before repeating on the other side. This stretch alleviates muscle tension in the side of the neck down into the shoulder. Additionally, bend the head forward, pulling the chin toward the chest, to alleviate tension in the back of the neck.

Perform isometric exercises or contractions in the legs, hips and trunk. For example, keep the core and leg muscles active by leaning the back against a wall in an airport or travel station and sliding the body down until the knees are bent at about 90°. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds to perform an isometric exercise. Alternatively, tense up the muscles in the abdomen for 30 seconds, without moving the back or torso, then release.

Getting blood flowing allows for more effortless movement and makes you less prone to aching.

This article is based in large part on the May 2022 American Legion Magazine article written by Beth W. Orenstein in discussions with Rahul Shah, a spine and neck surgeon with Premier Orthopaedic associates in Vineland, New Jersey.

Blake Hyfield is the post service officer for the local VFW and American Legion posts. He can be reached at