Today is a scheduled rest/recovery day, but don’t worry! We are open and running on a normal class schedule. In today’s CrossFit group classes, you’ll have the option of doing either yesterday or tomorrow’s programming, which can be found in the comments section of today and every Rest Day’s post.
How to Avoid Back Pain While Traveling
By Dr. Jason Fidler
As a fellow traveler with 10 years of experience as a chiropractor and CrossFitter (my practice is on the 2nd floor of 597 Degraw), I often see gym members and patients suffering from stiffness in their back or neck due to, or exacerbated by, the rigors of traveling. Teleportation has yet to be invented and airplane seats are shrinking by the day. And unless you’re a hermit, we all have to use mass transit, which doesn’t always allow us the luxury of choosing the right kind of seat or standing up to move around whenever we feel like it.
We know that long periods of sitting can cause adaptive stiffness and irritation in the discs, ligaments, and muscles around your spine and trunk. Whether it be planes, trains, or automobiles, you have to be able to maintain good spinal positions when you’re stuck in a seat or, at the very least, know how to actively recover from being in those compromised positions for long stretches of time.
To help decrease the risk of injury and avoid compromised body function afterwards, here is the general advice I give to my patients before they embark on a long, uncomfortable journey.
BEFORE THE TRIP
Your gluteal muscles support your lumbar (low back) region. We want to prep these muscles to keep them active during the time you’ll be stuck in a seated position.
Exercise 1: Banded Glute Bridge (you do not need a band)
Glute Bridges are a great way to activate this region pre-flight/car ride.
1) Start with your feet close to the glutes and hip width apart. Grip the floor with your toes, keeping the foot flat.
2) Tuck your hips under into slight posterior tilt, flattening the back to the floor.
3) Drive the knees out slightly into a band or belt.
4) While thrusting the hips upward, drive your weight through your heels and drive your knees forward, keeping the knees apart against the band. Make sure your hips are still slightly tucked posterior. If you arch your lower back, your abs and glutes are now disengaged and you are using your lower back muscles.
5) Hold the top position for 3 seconds, actively squeezing the glutes.
6) As you drop back to the floor, maintain a slight posterior tilt and keep the knees apart.
Note: At the top of the bridge, your weight should be in your feet and shoulders. Your body should make a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. If your pelvis goes any higher, you are starting to use your lower back. Also, do not round the spine as your lift the hips like in yoga. Your spine should stay neutral! This bridge is different.
Exercise 2: Air Squats
These are are another great way to get blood flow into this region. Focus on loading up your hips.
1) Stand with neutral feet shoulder width apart.
2) Stick both arms straight out in front of you and pull your shoulders down.
3) Squeeze your butt, engage your abs, and screw your feet into the ground.
4) Lower your hamstrings until you get as deep in the squatting position as you can while maintaining a braced neutral spine. The minimum depth is going down until your upper legs are parallel with the floor.
5) Maintaining the tension in your glutes, abs and hips, and keeping your big toes on the ground, drive back up to the starting position.
The number of reps is less important than the feeling of getting your glutes and trunk region activated.
Any variation of hip openers will help. This will help mitigate the amount of time your hips will be stuck in flexion.
DURING THE TRIP
Tip 1: Use a lumbar support. A small inflatable pad is nice because it’s adjustable. Position the support at the base of your ribcage. Tinker with different positions to see what works best. I tend to use my puff coat, but if that’s not an option, try a Terma-a-Rest Lumbar Travel Pillow. While neck pillows can be also be helpful, they are often a pain to carry and too warm. Here’s one that worked for me.
Tip 2: Make friends with the people sitting on either side of you so they won’t be bothered when you ask them to stand up periodically.
Tip 3: Open your hips, shift positions, and stand up as often as possible. Try to straighten your legs, squeeze your butt and thighs as hard as you can enforce your hips into full extension every 20 to 30 minutes if possible. You can do so in your seat. Turning on your glutes will help reset those femurs and make you feel a whole lot better. Try Glute Popping.
Tip 4: Use your seatbelt to stabilize your pelvis. When you slouch in an airplane seat you’re not actively braced and your lower back rounds in your pelvis rotates posteriorly underneath your body. This puts tremendous compressive stress on the discs in your lumbar spine. To help minimize the pressure on your lower back, try keeping the belt tight enough to push your rear end against the back of the seat to keep your pelvis as neutral as possible. This locks your pelvis in place and prevents it from rotating underneath your body.
Tip 6: Stay hydrated. Airplane air is exceptionally dry, so aim to drink 8 ounces of water for each hour you’re in the air.
POST-FLIGHT / CAR RIDE
Mobilize for 10 to 15 minutes after you arrive at your destination. I know that mobilizing is usually the last thing you feel like doing after a long trip. But prioritize it, even when you get in late. Think about this: if you go to bed stiff, you’re going to wake up feeling even worse.
Should you still continue to have a nagging pain or discomfort after your travels, it may be wise to consult a healthcare professional to screen out other possible underlying issues. I hold office hours 5 days a week. Use my website to schedule an appointment or for insurance inquiries.
Safe and happy travels!
News and Notes
- We’ll be running on a modified schedule from Wednesday to Friday this week for Thanksgiving. Find out what you can expect over on the Schedule page.
- CFSBK OG Samir C. recently penned an essay for Aeon spicily entitled “Intellectual Property Is Nonsensical and Pernicious.” Give it a read!
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