Myth: Flying economy is bad for your back
Truth: Okay, no one could ever say that airline seats were build for comfort – no myth there. However, there is no research that flying economy is the cause of your back pain nor is there research that flying business keeps your back from hurting. Our backs can hurt after plane rides for a few reasons, none of which is purely the fault of the chair:
- Carrying and lifting bags – the heaviest thing most of us carry on a regular basis is a bag of groceries. That doesn’t even come close to what we can pack into a carry-on bag. And, we don’t normally have to lift that grocery bag overhead or grab it from a moving conveyor belt! This sudden lifting, often after prolonged sitting (riding to the airport, sitting in the waiting area, sitting on the plane) can do a lot more damage to your back muscles and spine than the chair ever did.
- Prolonged sitting – all that sitting, regardless of how good the chair is or isn’t, is not good for our backs. It makes our muscled tighten up and compresses the discs in the spine.
- Working in spaces never meant for working – getting caught up in using your laptop, tablet or regular paper while in a space that encourages you to sit like a turtle are not good for your spine. Having a “better” chair isn’t the answer — bring the work up to you instead of leaning over to the work!
Regardless of what class of airline seat you buy, you should follow a few simple rules to keep your back healthy:
- Stretch, move, stretch, move and stretch some more! Movement is key to keeping the blood flowing and the body happy.
- Support your feet – when you first sit in the seat take a moment and assess if your weight is on the back of your thighs or your butt. Most of us sit with our knees lower than our hips and this causes a pull on our spines. Put your feet up on your carryon luggage to raise your knees and reduce the pull.
- Drink a lot of water (not soda, coffee, juice or alcohol) while flying – muscles and spinal joints can become very unhappy when dehydrated.
- If you plan on working while you are on the plane, travel with a large 3-ring binder – when you put your work or laptop on it the work comes up to you and you don’t have to turtle down to it.
- Bring a light sweater or jacket with you to stuff behind your back at your lumbar spine – none of the airline seats have adjustable lumbar supports. You should bring your own.
- Plan the lift – if at all possible, store your carry-on below the seat in front of you and reduce your overhead lifting. When getting your bag off the carousel, pull it off and let it fall. Never chase your bag while trying to lift it.
Next time you fly try these tips, and then come back and tell me how they worked! Bon Voyage.