Pain on a Plane; How to Avoid it

Hi I'm dr. John Shim. Today I want to answer questions about advice people asked me about back pain and air travel. We all live very busy lives now and we travel a lot. The statistic is 1.7 million Americans daily get on a plane to travel. Most of the time for business but there are family milestones, sickness other issues that make you get on that plane. When you have back pain it's never at an opportune moment, it always affects you while you're in the midst of something important so you need to learn how to adjust your back pain to your travel. So these are some common advices I give to my patients. Number one book your flights as early as possible and get an aisle seat. That aisle seat will be very important for you to be able to get up and out of your chair relatively quickly without too much pain. Number two, get TSA PreCheck. It speeds your passage through the airport and you don't have to take off your shoes and some of your outerwear when you go through the screening process. Number three, pack light. Very obvious you don't want to carry heavy things. Number four, if you can, send your luggage ahead. There are many services now that will deliver your luggage to your destination. Number five, decide now if you're gonna go on a long direct flight or if you want to break up your flight into smaller segments to allow you to get out of the plane. Number six, get to the airport early you do not want to be rushed especially if your back hurts. Number seven, put your medications on carry-on if you put it in checked bags and don't have access it can be a problem and make sure to bring your prescription bottle especially if you're overseas. If you don't have the right prescription strength bottle and you just have these loose standing pills it can cause you a problem. Number eight, wear easy slip-on shoes. It allows you to slip on without laces you don't have to bend over. Number nine bring, a small towel to use as a lumbar roll. Number ten, once in the air, this is why it's important get an aisle seat, get up every 30 minutes stretch walk around if you can. Number eleven, time your bathroom breaks to make sure you don't have to go too often and control your hydration. In the ideal perfect world we don't have to get on the plane but we do not live in that world we live in a realistic world where life interferes with our back pain episodes and we must accommodate them. This is Dr. Shim, talking about air travel on back pain I hope this was helpful. Thank you.

Pain on a Plane ; How to Avoid it

1.73 million people take a plane in America every day. The vast majority of these trips are business related but sooner or later almost everyone has a reason to get on a plane. A good portion of these people have neck or low back pain and do not look forward to hours in the air.

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There are many different ways people try to avoid pain when they travel.

  • All luggage should be small, well balanced and have wheels in good working condition. Check luggage when you can, and use a skycap for multiple bags and getting bags off the carousel.


  • Flights should be booked as early as possible, so an aisle seat can be obtained. Also decide whether it is easier to have one long flight or connecting shorter ones.


  • Make sure your medications are in their original prescription bottles and that they are in your carry-on luggage. Lost clothes can be an inconvenience : lost or unidentified meds can be a disaster.


  • Get TSA pre check, avoid being late and wear easy slip on shoes. Stress and anxiety can increase pain.


  • Bring a small towel to act a lumbar roll, make good use of a travel neck pillow and try to avoid sleeping with your neck in a poor position.


  • Lastly, get up and move or stretch every 30 minutes. Time your bathroom breaks and do not over hydrate.


There is no reason to miss family holidays or important events because you have chronic back pain. Just plan ahead and do a few simple things that can make your trip much more enjoyable. Bon Voyage!


  • Vancampfort D, Smith L, Stubbs B, Swinnen N, Firth J, Schuch FB, Koyanagi A. Associations between active travel and physical multi-morbidity in six low- and middle-income countries among community-dwelling older adults: A cross-sectional study. PLoS One. 2018;13(8):e0203277. PubMed PMID: 30161211

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