How to Protect Your Back and Spine While on the Move
Your central nervous system (CNS) is made up of the nerves in the brain and the spinal cord. Your CNS is contained within the skull and vertebral canal of the spine. The system is responsible for controlling most functions of the body and mind.
The brain is the center of our thoughts, the interpreter of our external environment, and the place where we have control over body movement. The central nervous system is part of the greater network of nerves that allow the brain to coordinate the body’s functions. The CNS and the peripheral nervous system (PNS) make up the nervous system. The PNS is the division of the nervous system containing all the nerves that lie outside of the CNS.
In simpler terms, the CNS is comprised of the spinal cord, which is the gateway for communication between the body and the brain. If the spinal cord is injured, the exchange of information between the brain and other parts of the body is negatively impacted. This means that when we talk about caring for our CNS, we need to think about caring for our spinal cord.
If you are a frequent traveler, you might be familiar with the body pain that can come afterwards. Nothing is worse than winding down after traveling to enjoy your vacation, only to spend half of it wondering how to get rid of persistent body pain. Let’s look into the ways that traveling can affect the spinal cord, cause body pain, and how you can reverse these effects to make the most of your trip.
Traveling places a variety of stresses on the back, neck, and the network of muscles, joints, and discs. Almost everything involved in traveling places stresses on these areas, from sitting for prolonged periods with poor lumbar support to handling and lifting excessively heavy luggage. Here are some simple steps you can take when traveling that will protect the spinal structures and keep your travels from affecting your CNS:
- Use protective lifting techniques for luggage
Because lifting luggage takes such a short amount of time, you might not think it could have a major impact on your CNS, but this is not true. Being mindful of the way you lift luggage can make a major difference in helping your CNS. It is best to move slowly and carefully and to be aware of the space around you. It is important to be aware of how much room you have and how much luggage you need to carry so that you do not bite off more than you can chew. To protect your spinal structures from extra stress, you can try the following techniques:
- Bend at the knees and squat to lift heavy items. Avoid bending at the waist.
- Carry the weight in the leg muscles rather than the back muscles.
- Carry items close to the chest instead of forward or in the front of the body.
- Distribute the weight of the luggage evenly on both sides of the body. Avoid piling bags onto one shoulder.
- Move the body to meet the bag instead of moving the bag to meet the body.
- Bend at the waist to lift a suitcase off the ground.
- Lift the suitcase from the ground into an overhead compartment.
- Move at the waist to move a suitcase from a car trunk to the ground.
Other Travel Tips to Prevent Body Pain
From lifting luggage to long layovers, traveling can be quite tiring, and it can be tempting to sit still when ever possible. If you are looking to protect your CNS and avoid body pain, we recommend adding a bit of motion into the mix when ever you can. To stay active when traveling, we recommend the following methods:
- Move every 30 minutes
If you are sitting or standing for 30 minutes or more, we recommend changing positions. Sitting still for four or more hours slows down the blood flow in your legs and makes it more likely to clot. For the next few wees after traveling, your blood clot risk stays higher than usual. Even healthy individuals with low risk of blood clots increase their risk during a long flight.
- Take regular stretching breaks
Whether you are flying or driving, sitting in an upright position can wreak havoc on your spinal cord, especially if you are not getting enough lumbar support. For this reason, we recommend stopping every 60-90 minutes to get out and walk at a rest stop or going into the bathroom at the airplane to stretch. Some simple stretches you can do while on-the-go include:
This is a great stretch for relieving back and leg pain, but it can also stretch your lower back. To do this position, lie on your back and bend your knees toward your chest. Release your legs into the original position.
- Shoulder shrug
Shoulder shrugs can help improve posture while strengthening shoulder and neck muscles. A shoulder shrug is simple to perform while on a plane or in the car.
- Hip flexors stretch
This type of stretch strengthens your hips and increases mobility. To begin, stand with proper posture and keep your legs aligned with your hips. Bend your left leg and bring your heel up to touch your buttocks. With your leg in place, hold your leg with your right hand, release, and repeat with your right leg.
- Practice deep breathing techniques
If your muscles are undergoing stress during your travels, and you have limited ability to get up and take stretching breaks, deep breathing can help reduce muscle tension and lessen pain. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body because when you breathe deeply, your body sends a message to the brain to relax.
If you would like to learn more about protecting your central nervous system, call ProFysio Physical Therapy at (732) 812-5200 or contact us online.