We all experience aches and pains of some sort while traveling. Whether the pains are minor or major, you’re in some sort of a dilemma. According to frequent fliers, they assume that pain and discomfort are part of the travel experience. I’ve been traveling the globe for the last 10 years and have encountered a myriad of health-related issues. However, I managed to overcome them thanks to a few tips I’ve learned and practiced along the way. I’m an Osteopath, D.O., and what I’m relaying here is what I’ve personally experienced and doesn’t reflect every situation.
Here are a few of the most common aches and pains with helpful advice to alleviate them.
What a pain in the neck!
I’m not referring to your significant other, but those long periods of sitting and the stress of traveling that creates one of the biggest complaints I hear from people. Fortunately, neck pain is one of the simpler problems to fix.
The best way to alleviate neck pain is to have your partner give you a long neck and shoulder massage. If that isn’t an option, then a good neck stretch will do wonders, reducing the pain by 80%.
First, bend your head as far as you can to one side (ear-to-shoulder touch), then use your hand to pull your head slowly down the bent side, using your breathing as encouragement to let the neck stretch more. Usually 5-10 deep breaths is enough. Repeat this five times in both directions and up to 10 times until you alleviate the pain.
Follow the same procedure with rotations and flexing of the neck up to 10 times. You can also give yourself a brief neck massage. Start at the base of your skull and slowly move your thumbs down to the base of your neck, letting your head relax forward. If you’re on a road trip, do these exercises when you reach a rest stop. These techniques also work well to prevent neck pain from occurring. It also helps to stretch your shoulders, really opening them up is a great tension reliever.
Don’t do your head in!
Oh, yes, headaches are a common aliment that can ruin a great vacation. There are many causes of them, including stress, menstrual periods, allergies, and sinuses. Headaches are a little harder to fix than a sore neck, but it’s not impossible.
If the headache is because of your sinuses, place pressure with your fingers just above the nostrils and slowly pull the base of the nose downwards for 10 to 30 seconds, as if you were separating it from your eye sockets. Alternatively, place both thumbs on each temple, and then pull forward and up to reduce the sinus pressure.
For tension headaches, massage the base of the skull with both hands back and forth for up to 30 seconds. If your partner is willing, a short, firm neck and shoulder rub should help to alleviate the headache if stress is the cause of it.
Your eyes are bigger than your stomach
We don’t always eat the healthiest of foods while on vacation. I used to eat convenient, sometimes fast food, according to a somewhat busy schedule. The environment, unfamiliar food and drinks and stress can create havoc on our systems.
To relieve a stomachache, massage your tummy for a few minutes. Focus on the area with the most tension, even though you may experience some discomfort by doing so. This will reduce pressure and gas, and the motion allows the body to become pain free.
Also, you can massage the acupuncture point on the outer shin just below the knee cap, concentrating on the the tender spot.
Get a leg up!
This is a common problem when traveling long distances, especially on airplanes. Prolonged periods of sitting can create pressure in your legs and even thrombosis if you don’t get up and move around.
The simplest thing to do is to walk around to get the blood flowing. You can also stretch your legs by extending them and lifting the ankle up, then hold that position for 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat this 5 to 10 times. This will help you to increase the blood flow and relieve the tension.
Massage your calves, too. Find the middle of the calf muscle and start pushing from the back of the ankle to the knee a few times, in order to pump blood towards the heart.
You can also put one leg over the other and stretch your hip, leaning forward at the same time makes the stretch more intense. You can also tighten the muscles from your calf to your butt by squeezing your legs as tight as possible for 30 seconds, and then relax them. Repeat this several times.
Another option is to stand against a wall and bend forward, allowing your body to stretch the sciatica. If you know that you’re going to sit for an extended period of time, it might be a good idea to invest in compression stockings. These not only keep blood flowing back up to your heart, but they help to prevent leg edema (a swelling of the leg due to excess fluid).
Wear loose fitting pants as well, especially around your waist when traveling. Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol, too, which dehydrate your body. Of course, drink plenty of water, and you may want to consider eating magnesium and potassium-rich foods, such as bananas. Both vitamins reduce leg cramps.
Coach class is notorious for its bad seats, which aren’t good for your posture at all. Other situations, like a bumpy taxi ride or uncomfortable train seats, can also trigger back pain. This can result in sleepless nights and overall irritability.
The best thing to do is to stretch your back. Some yoga positions, such as the downward dog, cat, cow or cobra, or just bending down to touch your toes, will do the trick. Obviously, flight attendants won’t like it if you whip out your yoga mat in the galley mid-flight; therefore, save these exercises for when you’re at home or in a hotel room.
If you find yourself in a confined space, like in an airline or car, use your fists like balls on your back for a few moments, digging deep into your stiff muscles. I also love to take that questionable airline pillow or blanket, roll it into a ball and place it at my lower back—yeah, that’s the ticket.
You can also ask your partner to give you a nice massage (a recurring theme here).
I’m all ears
Earaches are very common while traveling at a high altitude. You feel as if your ears are completely clogged. It’s painful, and it makes it hard to hear anything. It’s called barotrauma, and it refers to injuries caused by sudden increases in air pressure.
This particularly plagues my wife, whose plugged ears will leave her yelling at me for hours after we land. It commonly occurs while taking off and landing, but it can happen anytime you reach an altitude quickly. I had a friend who often experienced this while going up in an elevator.
A simple trick to avoid this is to chew something, like gum, yawn or open the mouth to relieve the tension. You can also use your two thumbs to massage the masseter muscles, which are between your jaw and ears. You may also try pulling the bottom or your ears down and out when you yawn. This does wonders to open up plugged ears.
If these methods don’t work, pinch your nose and inhale through your mouth. Then, try pushing the air out through your nose while keeping it pinched shut. Do this very, very carefully and don’t push too hard, or else you’ll tear your eardrums. Stop as soon as one ear pops.
When helping little children or babies with this problem, it’s really best to let them cry, no matter how much it annoys other passengers on the plane. You can also give a child or baby something to suck, chew or drink (a bottle or pacifier work great). Remember, this is a temporary condition. Even if these tips don’t work, the discomfort will go away on its own. Again, you can ask your significant other for a nice massage of the neck muscles and jaws.
Traveling is one of the most fun times in our lives, and it’s even more fun when you can do it pain and stress free.