A Vacation from Back Pain | Tips for the Pain-free Summer Traveler

For many of us, summer is the season to burn some vacation time and hit the road. The longer days and warmer weather may make it easier to get away, but summer travel often includes cramped flights and seemingly-endless road trips. And that can take a real toll on your back—even if you don’t have a history of pain.To fully enjoy your summer destination, you need to know how to protect your back during the journey.Below are some simple ways you can take care of your back on the road—and in the air.

Car Trips

Car travel is back on the rise—the economy has forced many summer vacationers to accessible, domestic locales. But sitting in a car for hours on end can put a lot of pressure on your back. Fortunately, there are ways to alleviate the strain long car rides can place on your low back:

If your car seat doesn’t offer enough support for your low back, there are a variety of seat cushions, pillows, and other car aids on the market that are designed to make your car trip much more comfortable. If you don’t want to spend the money, simply roll up a towel and create a makeshift cushion between your back and the seat.
Take time to stop at rest stops and towns along the way to stretch and move around. Staying in the same position for hours at a time will only exacerbate your back pain. Even spending just a few minutes doing some back stretches may make a big difference in preventing pain.

Make sure you’re not sitting on anything (such as a wallet, money clip, or cell phone). If you are, it can aggravate back pain. Bring a cooler packed with ice packs to relieve pain on the road. If you need to ice your back, do so for no longer than 15 minutes at a time. Also, make sure there is a barrier, such as a towel, between the ice and your skin.

Air Travel

With the struggling economy, the comfy, roomy first-class airline seats are an unattainable luxury for most of us. Unfortunately, coach seats are often cramped, restrictive, and offer little support for your back. In fact, a 2008 SpineUniverse survey found that 88% of people who had flown in North America in the last year reported that they had back or neck pain—or both—after their flight.If you want to arrive at your gate pain free, you should follow the guidelines below:

Request an aisle seat—it will allow you easy access to get up and move around. On a similar note, take advantage if your airline offers special deals on seats with extra legroom. Focusing on your posture is essential if you want your flight to be a bearable experience. Keep both feet on the floor and sit upright. Most airlines also offer pillows to passengers, and you can place one behind your lower back for extra support. However, firmer pillows are the best option, especially for long-haul flights.

Use rolling luggage and pack light. At the luggage carousel, don’t be afraid to ask for help in picking up your bags. If you are confident handling your own bags, take your time and don’t bend your spine as you lift. If you need more tips on how lifting and reaching to avoid back pain, read this article.

When it comes to pain-free traveling, the journey is just as important as the destination. Summer vacation should be something to look forward to, but it can be anything but enjoyable if you have back pain. Taking these precautions will help prevent pain, letting you truly enjoy your time away.

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11 Tips for Living With Chronic Pain

1. Learn deep breathing or meditation to help with chronic pain.

Deep breathing and meditation are techniques that help your body relax, which eases pain. Tension and tightness seep from muscles as they receive a quiet message to relax.

Although there are many to meditate, the soothing power of repetition is at the heart of some forms of meditation. Focusing on the breath, ignoring thoughts, and repeating a word or phrase — a mantra — causes the body to relax. While you can learn meditation on your own, it helps to take a class.

Deep breathing is also a relaxation technique. Find a quiet location, a comfortable body position, and block out distracting thoughts. Then, imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot, filling your abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon.

2. Reduce stress in your life. Stress intensifies chronic pain.

Negative feelings like depression, anxiety, stress, and anger can increase the body’s sensitivity to pain. By learning to take control of stress, you may find some relief from chronic pain.

Several techniques can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. Listening to soothing, calming music can lift your mood — and make living with chronic pain more bearable. There are even specially designed relaxation tapes or CDs for this. Mental imagery relaxation (also called guided imagery) is a form of mental escape that can help you feel peaceful. It involves creating calming, peaceful images in your mind. Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique that promotes relaxation.

3. Boost chronic pain relief with the natural endorphins from exercise.

Endorphins are brain chemicals that help improve your mood while also blocking pain signals. Exercise has another pain-reducing effect — it strengthens muscles, helping prevent re-injury and further pain. Plus, exercise can help keep your weight down, reduce heart disease risk, and control blood sugar levels — especially important if you have diabetes. Ask your doctor for an exercise routine that is right for you. If you have certain health conditions, like diabetic neuropathy, you will need to be careful about the types of activities you engage in; your doctor can advise you on the best physical activities for you.

4. Cut back on alcohol, which can worsen sleep problems.

Pain makes sleep difficult, and alcohol can make sleep problems worse. If you’re living with chronic pain, drinking less or no alcohol can improve your quality of life.

5. Join a support group. Meet others living with chronic pain.

When you’re with people who have chronic pain and understand what you’re going through, you feel less alone. You also benefit from their wisdom in coping with the pain.
Also, consider meeting with a mental health professional. Anyone can develop depression if they’re living with chronic pain. Getting counseling can help you learn to cope better and help you avoid negative thoughts that make pain worse — so you have a healthier attitude. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

6. Don’t smoke. It can worsen chronic pain.

Smoking can worsen painful circulation problems and increase risk of heart disease and cancer.

7. Track your pain level and activities every day.

To effectively treat your pain, your doctor needs to know how you’ve been feeling between visits. Keeping a log or journal of your daily “pain score” will help you track your pain. At the end of each day, note your pain level on the 1 to 10 pain scale. Also, note what activities you did that day. Take this log book to every doctor visit — to give your doctor a good understanding of how you’re living with chronic pain and your physical functioning level.

8. Learn biofeedback to decrease pain severity.

Through biofeedback, it’s possible to consciously control various body functions. It may sound like science fiction, but there is good evidence that biofeedback works — and that it’s not hard to master.

Here’s how it works: You wear sensors that let you “hear” or “see” certain bodily functions like pulse, digestion, body temperature, and muscle tension. The squiggly lines and/or beeps on the attached monitors reflect what’s going on inside your body. Then you learn to control those squiggles and beeps. After a few sessions, your mind has trained your biological system to learn the skills.

9. Get a massage for chronic pain relief.

Massage can help reduce stress and relieve tension — and is being used by people living with all sorts of chronic pain, including back and neck pain.

10. Eat a healthy diet if you’re living with chronic pain.

A well-balanced diet is important in many ways — aiding your digestive process, reducing heart disease risk, keeping weight under control, and improving blood sugar levels. To eat a low-fat, low-sodium diet, choose from these: fresh fruits and vegetables; cooked dried beans and peas; whole-grain breads and cereals; low-fat cheese, milk, and yogurt; and lean meats.

11. Find ways to distract yourself from pain so you enjoy life more.

When you focus on pain, it makes it worse rather than better. Instead, find something you like doing — an activity that keeps you busy and thinking about things besides your pain. You might not be able to avoid pain, but you can take control of your life.

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