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How to avoid pain on a plane

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While holidays can be great stress-relievers, the change from your normal routine and hours spent travelling can sometimes take a toll on your body.

So take care when wearing flip flops instead of your usual footwear, carrying heavy bags or negotiating sand dunes to get to the beach, and here are some tips for surviving the sedentary hours to get to your dream location…

How can holidays or days out cause joint problems?

When you’re off relaxing or enjoying yourself at the beach or in the countryside, surely you’re looking after your health by taking time out?

Whilst this is certainly true for easing stress issues, it’s the change in activities and habits that can result in your joints suffering. For example, wearing flip flops instead of your usual footwear, being more active, carrying heavy bags or negotiating sand dunes every day to get to the beach can all take their toll on your joints.

“Even the trip to and from your destination can be hazardous, as prolonged periods of sitting on a plane, car or bus, along with short bursts of lugging heavy bags or equipment is a recipe for problems,” says Dr Wright.

Looking after your joints when travelling

When you’re travelling on long journeys, do what you can to look after yourself by following our tips for avoiding back pain on long car journeys and our handy graphic below which shows how to prevent or manage back pain while flying.


“Try to maintain the natural lumbar curvature of the lower spine, which will put your back and neck in a less vulnerable position,” advises Dr Wright. To help keep the supportive spinal muscles active, get up and move around as often as possible, or take regular breaks from driving.

Holiday packing doesn’t always end up lightweight, especially if you need to take lots of equipment with you. Lugging heavy bags can play havoc on your joints, so do take care when carrying bags.

“The worst thing you can do is try to lift a heavy bag with your back bent or rotated, which is easily done when rushing to lift bags in and out of the car or off the airport conveyor belt,” says Dr Wright. “Instead, come in close to the bag and bend your knees rather than your back when lifting.”

Choosing the right footwear

What you wear on your feet can play a crucial role on your joint health, so choosing the best footwear for different trips or activities can make a key difference.

According to the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, the right footwear will minimise the stress placed on your feet and joints, helping reduce the risk of injury and joint damage. They say flip flops, in particular, don’t support your feet and increase the risk of foot or ankle strains.

When on holiday, Dr Wright suggests the following:

  • Keep flip flops for pottering around near the water’s edge or in cafes.
  • Wear supportive trainers when you’re walking on uneven ground, such as a beach, especially if you’re walking a long way.
  • Wear lightweight open structured shoes for walking or sports activities. These will allow air to circulate and support your feet.

Top holiday joint health tips

To help you get the most out of your holiday experience and ensure your joints don’t suffer, Dr Wright has the following top tips for holiday joint health.

  1. Plan ahead. If you intend to have an active holiday, involving walking, cycling, tennis, swimming or other outdoor activities, do light training first to allow your joints and soft tissues to become accustomed to the activity. Practise once or twice a week for 30 minutes up to six weeks before your holiday. This will help reduce your chance of a holiday injury.
  2. Loosen your shoulders, back and neck before jumping into the sea or pool. The rotator cuff tendons of the shoulder are at risk of injury with sudden powerful activities, such as front crawl.
  3. Take care when diving and always check the depth of the water. Spinal injuries are caused by people diving into shallow water. If you can’t see what’s under the water, go in feet first.
  4. Avoid exercising after drinking alcohol. Even a slight lack of co-ordination leads to a higher chance of musculoskeletal injury, plus you’re at risk of dehydration.

Going on holiday should be an enjoyable experience. By being prepared and doing things safely you can help save your joints from unwanted holiday injuries.

Visit our Working Body Centre for more information on how to take care of your musculoskeletal health or why not post any questions you may have for our medical experts online, who will try to respond within a couple of days?

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