Surviving the Holidays: Travelling

(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com Nov 29th, 2012)

Holiday TicketsThe malls are playing carols, there are trees everywhere, and there are sales left, right, and centre. There is no more denying it. The holiday season has begun. This leads us to start planning out the holidays and for most people this means travelling. Be it vacation, seeing relatives, or any other reason, it seems that everyone is headed somewhere at this time of year. So this week we’re going to talk about surviving the holiday travel.

The Car

When traveling by car for the holidays there is bad traffic, noisy kids, and crappy weather to contend with. This can make even the shortest of trips seem long. When tense the human body does not take pressures well and this will result in very sore and sometimes spasmed muscles.

It is important to follow these suggestions whenever you travel but they are essential to surviving holiday travel.

Stretching
After everything is loaded and before getting in the car make sure to stretch your neck, shoulders, low back, hips, and knees. This will help you settle into the car and avoid aches and pains in the long run. Stopping once an hour to stretch again is also a good idea to keep your body from settling into a bad position. You may feel fine while driving but how many times have you reached your destination only to find your back is incredibly stiff and painful?

Ergonomics
One thing I have noticed about modern cars is that the seats are “build for maximum comfort” but when the average human frame finds comfort in a hunched over position this does not equate to being ergonomically sound. The sides push your shoulders forward, the headrest pushes your head forward, and the lumbar support never sits in the right place for anyone. So how can we fix this? Well, the stretching I mentioned above definitely helps but we can also make sure we get the most out of the chair we are given.

First off, most people who I have ever met have the seat back at an angle. This causes us to lean our heads forward to look straight ahead out the wind shield instead of out the sunroof. This forward head position pulls the shoulders into a slump. This position is no good for your neck, upper back, or shoulders. It will cause aches and pains in all those places. Raise up the back of the chair so that you can comfortable rest your head against the head rest and move the seat close enough to the steering wheel to be able to pull your shoulders back to touch the seat back while comfortable driving.

As for the low back we need to bring in some outside help for that. You can invest in a lumbar support pillow if you wish but if you want to save your money for presents for the family and boxing-day sales then all you need is a medium sized towel rolled up with elastic bands or twin around it to keep it in shape. Place this in the middle of your low back and shift and squish it until you can sit comfortably without your back sinking into the chair but also without your belly button feeling like its being pushed out past your knees.

Hydration
Avoid drinks like coffee and tea while driving as they are diuretic and will dehydrate you on your trip. Have a large bottle of water and sip it throughout your drive. The water will increase your blood volume and allow more blood to reach your brain and keep you awake. Being dehydrated will increase the likelihood of major muscle aches and pains at the end of your trip.

So far we have focused on the driver. These tips also apply to all passengers in the car (except for reaching the steering wheel of course). For those of us who like to sleep during a long car ride (as a passenger, not the driver) a travel pillow that wraps around the neck is key to keeping those aches and pains away when you wake.

The Plane
If you are escaping somewhere warm or visiting relatives in far off places this holiday then perhaps you are taking that marvel of engineering, the aeroplane. These amazing machines unfortunately built for safety and efficiency and not comfort (unless you are travelling first class) the essential tools to surviving a plane ride are the same as a car; a rolled up towel and a neck pillow. If you are worried about space both of these supports can be found in most travel stores in an inflatable form. These supports will help maintain a healthy posture for your body during the tip and limit the aches and pains you walk away with.

On long flights it is important to get up and move around on a semi-frequent basis, especially if you are long limbed like me. When walking around in a plane it is definitely hard to get a brisk pace going so make sure to lift your knees high while walking wake up the muscles and get the blood flowing. Deep squats, twisting your shoulders, and rolling your neck will also help to loosen tight muscles and relieve aches and pains.

There are more pains to be had in air travel even before we get on the planes. There are tonnes of line-ups and check-points to get through so it is important to make sure you have luggage that does not weight heavily of your shoulders or even better yet, have luggage with wheels. Also, if you are standing in line make sure you are standing up straight. You don’t want to stress your neck and shoulders before you get on the pain. Be careful of slumping when reading a book or playing with your cell phone to pass the time.

Even in the waiting lounges we are confronted with chairs that were not built with the human frame in mind (again, unless you are travelling first class). Keep your body moving and try not to settle for too long. Personally, I find the cleanest patch of floor there is and sit cross legged with my back flat against the wall. Now is a good time to practice the movements you will want to do in the aisles on the plane.

There are many other ways to travel of course but the principles are the same. Centre your body in a neutral position and don’t stay still for too long. Get up and move frequently.

As always, thanks for reading and happy travels,
Dr. Ben

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