Traveling aches and pains: what can we do about it?
The holidays are here and many of us will be traveling long distances to see loved ones. In fact, I recently arrived home from traveling for two weeks by car and airplane. I do love seeing my family; however, I get low back pains, a stiff neck, and upper back and shoulder tension when being in a car or plane for extended periods of time. I would like to share with you some of the quick and easy ways I take care of my body while on the road.
When we sit, we are in a hip flexed position – in other words, our thighbones and knees are pulled upward as opposed to when we are standing straight. There is an entire group of muscles that become involved in hip flexion and of these the Psoas is perhaps the most integral. The Psoas attaches deep in our core, directly to the front side of our lower spine and continues down to connect to our large hipbones and, further down, to our thighbones. When we sit for long periods of time, our Psoas is in a shortened position and can get tight and stiff. This puts undo tension on the lower section of our spine when we stand up again. When you travel and are sitting for hours in a car or airplane, performing a quick Psoas stretch when you arrive at your destination can greatly improve your ability to stand up straight again without low back tension.
Here are two variations of a Psoas stretch. The second variation is for those who are unable to come down onto a knee.
To perform this stretch, come down on one knee into a lunge position. Perform a small tail tuck (flattening the low back) and lunge forward, stretching the front of the hip on the leg behind you. A small cushion under the knee can be comfortable if you are on a hard surface. Hold for 15 – 30 seconds and perform 2 – 3 times on each side.
Psoas Stretch 2:
(This is a good variation if you are unable to come down on a knee.)
Either on a bed or sofa, lie face-up and parallel to the edge with one leg hanging off the side. At this point, simple let gravity do the trick and, as you breathe, let your body relax into the stretch. Perform for 60 – 90 seconds on each side.
Another thing that happens to me when I travel is my neck gets stiff. When I am driving, my shoulders are usually hunched up a bit and my eyes are dead and center focused on the road ahead so that my neck hardly moves. When I am on a plane, my head and neck are in stiff positions as I try to find a comfortable way to lay my head on a most uncomfortable headrest. Not to mention that when I am in the airport I am often stressed and that contributes to upper shoulders and neck tension. When I am out of the car or airplane I make sure to do the following two stretches to relieve tension and feel freedom again in my neck. The first stretch targets the upper shoulders and the backside of the neck; the second stretch is for the front side of the neck.
Upper Trapezius Stretch:
To stretch the left side of your upper shoulders, sit in a chair and either grasp the bottom of the seat with your left hand or sit on your left hand to anchor your left shoulder down. Sit up straight and keep your head facing forward. Place your right hand on the back of your head and gently guide your head forward and to the right. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 2 – 3 times. Perform on both sides.
Anterior Neck Stretch:
To stretch the right front-side of the neck, take your left hand and using your palm drag and hook the skin directly under your right collarbone. Now tilt your head back and to the left. Slowly move your head and see how the stretch changes. To stretch the left front-side, use your right hand to anchor the skin under your left collarbone and look up and to the right. Hold for 30-60 seconds.
Lastly, when I travel, I often hunch my shoulders forward. My arms are either straight in front of me locked onto the steering wheel or I am slumped in a seat. When I get out of the car or airplane, my shoulders are rounded forward making me feel tight in my chest and sometimes causing pain between my shoulder blades. A simple and effective stretch for this is a chest opening Pectoral stretch. This can be done easily in a doorway.
Standing in front of a doorway place your arms straight out at a 90 degree angle against each side of the doorway. Be sure that your shoulders are not raised. Step forward one step with either foot and lean forward. As you lean forward try to bring your shoulder blades together. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
Well, there you have it! A quick and easy guide to how you can maintain a more pain free and balanced body during your travels this holiday season. I recommend doing these stretches as a set (should only take 3-5 minutes), twice on the days that you travel. And after you come home from traveling be sure to schedule a massage!
Happy Holidays and Warm Hugs,