In the flurry and excitement of packing for summer vacation, it’s easy to get carried away and pack everything but the kitchen sinks into your suitcase and carry-on. But over-packed luggage and improper lifting and carrying techniques while on the go this summer are common causes of spinal injuries, which can include injury to the back, neck and shoulders.
A heavy load that is unevenly or improperly distributed can cause muscle strain, headaches, back, neck and arm pain — even nerve irritation. For instance, a heavy bag carried on one shoulder forces the muscles and spine to compensate for the uneven weight. This places stress on the mid and lower back and may cause chronic problems.
The good news is many of these injuries can be easily prevented! The following tips can help take the pain out of your vacation:
Choosing your luggage:
- When shopping for new luggage, look for a sturdy, light, high-quality and transportable piece. Avoid purchasing luggage that is too heavy or bulky when empty.
- Choosing a bag with wheels and a handle can go a long way to lighten your load.
- A good quality backpack with adjustable, padded shoulder straps and a waist strap makes an ideal carry-on because, when worn correctly, bags can evenly distribute weight.
Packing your luggage:
- Over-packing is an easy pitfall, but consider that the larger and heavier the luggage, the more susceptible a traveller is to neck, back and shoulder injuries. Try to only pack what you absolutely need.
- When possible, place items in a few smaller bags, instead of one large luggage piece.
- Ensure your carry-on luggage does not weigh more than 10-15 % of your body weight.
- Keep the contents of any carry-on luggage to a minimum, pack heavy items at the bottom of the bag and make efficient use of the bag’s pockets.
Lifting and carrying your luggage:
- Move slowly and, whenever possible, break the action into smaller parts. For instance, when loading a suitcase in the trunk of a car, try lifting it first onto a chair or step stool, then lifting it into the trunk. Similarly, when placing luggage in an overhead compartment, first lift it onto the top of the seat.
- When lifting your luggage, first get close to the load and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Bend at the knees and let your leg muscles, rather than your back, do the lifting.
- Hold the load close to your body.
- Avoid twisting. Instead, turn your feet in the direction you are headed and turn your entire body in that direction.
- Do not carry bulky luggage for long periods of time. Make sure to check heavier items when travelling rather than carrying them for the duration of the trip.
- Try to carry light pieces in each hand rather than a single heavy item on one side.
- If using a backpack, use both shoulder straps and the waist strap and adjust them to minimize the bag’s movement.
- If using a duffel or shoulder bag, switch sides often to reduce strain.
Lifting your luggage can’t always be avoided, even if your luggage has wheels. But practicing safe lifting techniques can substantially reduce your risk of injury.
To keep your spine healthy and happy while on the go this summer, also consider the following posture travel tips when in transit:
Get comfortable immediately:
- Take the time to get settled and comfortable at the beginning of your trip. Don’t have your wallet or cell phone in your back pocket.
- These items throw your spine and pelvis out of alignment. The smallest irritant at the beginning of your trip can turn into pain later.
- Consider wearing multiple layers of clothing this travel season to keep yourself from getting too hot or too cold on your journey.
Pay attention to your posture:
- Keep your chin tucked in slightly so that your head sits in line with your shoulders. Make sure that your back is aligned against the back of your seat. Sit up straight with your knees slightly higher than your hips where possible. This position avoids transferring stress to your lower back. This means if your seat is too high, it is best to put your feet on a footrest.
- If you are the driver, use cruise control to have both feet on the floor for periods of time.
- When it comes to getting comfy for a long trip, there is no one solution and it may take some effort to find what works best for you.
Bring your own back support:
- Seats in cars, trains and planes don’t always provide the right type of support for the lower back and neck. A lumbar support can be used to make your seat more comfortable and support your back. If you don’t have one or forget to bring it, a jacket, sweater or blanket rolled up can help in a pinch.
- An active and dynamic lumbar support like a Back Vitalizer travels easily and offers support for prolonged periods of sitting.
- An inflatable travel pillow that fits around the neck can help avoid neck strain by providing head support while resting or sleeping in a sitting position during travel.
Get up and move around:
- Your body is designed to move. Prolonged sitting in one position will cause your joints and back muscles to stiffen which can lead to pain and muscle spasms.
- Plan ahead to schedule stops where possible—ideally every 45-60 minutes. Get out of the car to move around and stretch.
- If you are travelling by train or plane, take a walk up and down the aisles. Movement stimulates blood circulation, which brings nutrients and oxygen to your lower back and joints.
- In between exercise breaks, try moving a little in your seat. Even 10 seconds of movement and stretching is better than sitting still. Pump your ankles to keep the blood flowing and provide a stretch to your restless legs.
Keep the physical stress of travelling to a minimum this summer and make your journey more pleasurable with these travel tips. Be sure to get adjusted before you leave on holiday and start your vacation balanced and refreshed! Awareness of everyday mistakes such as those mentioned above will help prevent injury and keep your spine healthy while you are on the go! A little planning ahead of time will make this summer’s travel as comfortable as possible so you feel your best spending time with those most important.
Injuries resulting from improper lifting and carrying of heavy loads can impact your quality of life. If you experience pain that lasts more than two or three days, book online or call us to get an evaluation with one of our MSK specialists including Chiropractors and Physiotherapists. Contact us today at our Byward Clinic at (613-860-8600) or our Glebe Clinic at (613-237-9000).