Neck Pain Nemesis: Six Travel Precautions to Avoid a Pain in the Neck

Neck Pain Nemesis: Six Travel Precautions to Avoid A Pain in the Neck

The prospect of travel instills terror in even the most stalwart of road warriors, many of them my patients. The fear is not unwarranted. Confined to upright seats – in cars, planes and trains – for much of their journey, travelers wind up with their lower spines in an L-shape, which causes the vertebral discs to compress and scream Lower Back Pain. But there’s another vulnerable body part that needs to be seriously coddled during travel: the neck.

Pain-in-the-neck travel is not just a metaphor. The neck is the forgotten area of the spine, especially during travel. And although many people have accepted neck soreness as normal, it’s not. If you ignore the pain, you may be setting yourself up for headaches, radiating pain, disc pain, shoulder tightness and arthritis.

When you’re traveling, it’s not just whiplash that poses a threat. According to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration study on ergonomics, a common cause of musculoskeletal disorders, such as neck pain, is being in awkward positions for extended periods of time.

How To Protect Yourself from Neck Pain when Travelling

Here’s what you can do to protect your neck while traveling to your destination.

1. Engage in pillow talk. If you have room in your luggage, consider bringing a travel pillow – some are inflatable – for your neck. The pillow’s job is to keep your neck in a neutral position, similar to how it’s aligned when you’re standing or looking straight ahead. You don’t want the headrest pushing your head forward.

2. Bunch up your clothing. If pillows or rolled-up blankets aren’t options, tightly fold up a pair of shorts or jacket to insert in the back of your neck. Women often bring shawls for warmth, and a large one can be bunched up. Make them about the size of your fist for optimal support of your neck.

Neck Pain Nemesis: Six Travel Precautions to Avoid a Pain in the Neck3. Don’t hang your head like a buzzard. The neck has a curve like a shallow “C.” Anytime you change that curve – which can happen when you read a book in your lap, lean forward when you work on a computer or text – you’re paving the way for trouble down the road.

Did you know there’s actually a diagnosis called “forward head carriage”? This happens when the head is moved forward and the ears are in front of the shoulders. For every inch the head is forward, the weight of the head on the neck is doubled, which can lead to disc degeneration.

4. Avoid drafts. Never aim the airplane fan directly on your neck. That blast of air can cool down your neck muscles and cause spasms and neck pain later on. Instead, circulate the air around you, but don't point it on you.

5. Raise your headrest. The American Chiropractic Association estimates that more than 75 percent of drivers have their headrest at an inappropriate height. The solution is to raise the headrest so the middle of it meets the back of your head.

6. Stretch upon arrival. When the spine is idle for 20 minutes or so, fluids creep back into and enlarge the disc, making it more vulnerable. After you leave your car or other vehicle, take a few minute to do some gentle stretches. Try knee-to-chest stretches or arching backwards, whichever feels better, to loosen up the lower back. For the neck, try side-to-side head turns, gently tipping your ear to the shoulder of the same side, and then repeating on the other side.

Following these pointers should help ensure a more pain-free experience. Typically I tell my patients not to stick their neck out, unless they plan on taking good care of it.

Reprinted with permission of the author. 
©2012. All Rights Reserved.

This article was written by the author of the book:

Back At Your Best: Balancing the Demands of Life with the Needs of Your Body
by Dr. Jay M. Lipoff.

Back At Your Best by Dr. Jay M. Lipoff.“Do You Want To Feel Your Best?” Alleviate back pains, maintain a healthy weight, and feel better and stronger at any age, with simple changes to your normal routine. Here is your easy to follow guide for everything from quality sleep, ending headaches, smarter eating and nutrition, better posture, proper stretching and exercise, and much more. Isn’t it time you were Back At Your Best?!

For More Into or to Order This Book on Amazon.

About the Author

Dr. Jay M. LipoffDr. Jay M. Lipoff is a chiropractor, certified fitness trainer, educator, and nationally recognized expert in spinal injury prevention. He is author of Back at Your Best: Balancing the Demands of Life with the Needs of Your Body). He is an executive board member of the ICA Council on Fitness and Sports Health Science, and hosts a radio segment on Mix 96.1 WVLF-FM on Fridays at 8:20 AM called "Back at Your Best in 5 Minutes or Less." Visit his website at

More Articles By Dr. Jay M. Lipoff

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