How to Prevent and Ease the Aches and Pains of Traveling
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How to Prevent and Ease the Aches and Pains of Traveling

We have all heard of needing a vacation from a vacation, and the aches and pains encountered while traveling generally aren’t in the itinerary. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Even if getting to your vacation destination is less than pleasant, there are ways to decrease the pain and strain on your body. We’ll show you how.

It is almost inevitable that you will suffer at least some minor aches and pains while traveling. Lack of activity and keeping your body in the same position for an extended period of time can take its toll on the legs, back, neck, and other parts of the body. Often travelers have little control over their traveling conditions—they might endure long waits, endless hours in a seated or standing position, heavy bags to haul at odd angles, and cramped quarters that don’t allow for much movement or stretching. Below are some of the most common muscle pains you could feel while traveling, as well as tips for preventing and treating these aches and pains.

Getting to Know Your Pain

  • Aches—a dull persistent pain that is usually felt when your body is at rest, generally caused by a contracted muscle, ligament, or tendon. Aches generally feel better after you start moving and warm up the muscles.
  • Tingling/asleep—a numbing sensation or loss of feeling when blood flow is constricted or a nerve is pinched. Once the source of the pinching or constriction is found and alleviated, the sensation should subside.
  • Cold—when muscles are contracted such that circulation, especially to the hands and feet, has stopped. Cold muscles are often helped by moving around and increasing blood flow to the cold areas.
  • Cramps—when dehydration, overuse, or inactivity cause a muscle to severely contract. Relaxing the muscle by stretching should reduce or eliminate cramps.
  • Knots—when individual muscle fibers are arranged into little clumps. Massaging the knots can break up the fibers and help them to realign.
  • Spasms—severe cramps that come and go in “waves.” As with cramping, relaxing the muscle by stretching should reduce or eliminate spasms.
  • Tension—constriction of blood flow caused by an irritated muscle. Relaxation techniques are the most effective in reducing this pain, which is caused by physical or mental stress.

Prevention Tips

Decrease the Strain

  • Reduce stress—Muscles often contract and tighten when you’re under physical or emotional stress.
  • Travel light—The less you bring, the less you have to carry. Checking the heavier baggage and/or using a luggage cart can decrease the strain on your body.
  • Find a comfortable position—Adjust your seat so it is as comfortable as possible. Use a pillow, blanket, or a traveling neck rest.
  • Leave the work at home—Trying to work on a laptop or other projects can cause eyestrain, odd back/body position, and added stress. If possible, try to limit the amount of time you spend on these activities.
  • Give yourself space—When possible, try to put luggage in the overhead bin, check luggage, or load as much as you can into the trunk, or leave it in your hotel room. This will give you more room to stretch out.
  • Use the cruise control—Having both feet on the ground will give you more support when you’re sitting, which decreases the strain on your legs and lower back.

Get Moving

  • Stretch—Stand up and move around whenever possible. This warms up the muscles that are tight from stress.
  • Take frequent breaks—When driving, alternate drivers or stop frequently to reduce fatigue and allow time for stretching and rest.
  • Request an aisle seat on airplanes, trains, or buses—This should give you at least a little extra room to do stretches and will disturb fewer people when you want to walk around. This will also prevent blood clots in the legs (deep venous thrombosis), which is one of the most dangerous travel maladies.

Take Care of Yourself

  • Get a good night’s sleep.
  • Try to eat well and drink plenty of fluids while traveling. Dehydration and a lack of nutrients, like potassium, can increase your risk of getting aches and pains while traveling.
  • Build in some down time or exercise. These are both great ways to decrease stress.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.
  • Avoid eating fast food. Prepare healthy and nutritious snacks prior to traveling.

Treatment Tips

  • Rest aching muscles.
  • Light to moderate exercise can increase blood flow to those areas, helping to stretch and relax them.
  • Use heat through hot showers, heating pads, and hot compresses to relax muscles.
  • Over-the-counter pain medications can relieve pain and stiffness.
  • Give yourself a mini-massage, or persuade a spouse, family member, or friend to help you.

When to Seek Medical Treatment

  • If your aches are severe or continue even after stretching, massage, and/or over-the-counter medication
  • If you are having other symptoms accompanying the muscle pain—such as fever, headache, weight loss, sore throat, a rash, redness, swelling, abdominal pain, or loss of muscle strength
  • If the pain travels down the limbs
  • If numbing or tingling is present
  • If you experience lower extremities swelling that is not symmetrical and does not subside after a few hours of normal activity (Some amount of swelling is expected with lack of movement; it is usually mild and symmetrical.)

RESOURCES:

American Massage Therapy Association
http://www.amtamassage.org/

American Physical Therapy Association
http://www.apta.org/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute
http://www.cflri.ca/eng/lifestyle/index.php/

Healthy Living Unit
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/pau-uap/fitness/

References:

Komaroff AL. Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide . New York, NY: Simon & Schuster; 1999.

Tortora GJ, Anagnostakos NP. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. 6th ed. New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc; 1989.

Travelfitness travel tips. TravelFitness.com website. Available at: http://www.travelfitness.com/tips.html. Accessed September 4, 2008.

Wharton J, Wharton P. The Wharton’s Stretch Book . New York, NY: Random House, Inc; 1996.



Last reviewed May 2008 by John C. Keel, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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