Avoiding Plane Pain

August 9th, 2016

For those of you who travel regularly for work, to those of you who occasionally fly for fun, we all know that sitting on a plane for a couple hours or more can be a real pain. I just wanted to share a few basic recommendations to help prevent in-flight and post flight neck and back pain.

Seat Selection

Picking the right seat can make all the difference. For people who regularly suffer from neck pain, I would avoid sitting in window seats. The temptation to stare out the window for long periods of time and the angle of the cabin wall can force you to keep your neck in an awkward position for a long period of time, which can lead to stiffness and pain.

For the tall among us, I would recommend selecting a seat in the front near the bulkhead or in the emergency exit aisle. The extra leg room will make it to where you can keep your hips at an appropriate angle and should help prevent low back pain.

If you suffer from chronic neck and low back pain, it may be worth the money to upgrade your seat to business or first class to get a little more room — particularly for flights longer than 3 hours.


Having the right type of support can make all the difference in arriving to your destination pain free. Neck and low back pillows can be used to help maintain the natural curves in your spine and keep you from putting to much pressure on one side or the other of either of them.

Neck pillows are particularly important if you have a tendency to fall asleep on flights. If you don’t have a pillow to hold your head up and it bounces around like a limp noodle, you’re gonna have a bad time.


When packing a carry-on, make sure that it isn’t overstuffed. Trying to take a fully loaded wheel bad down from the overhead compartment after you have been sedentary for an extended time is a recipe for disaster. Keep this in mind when you are packing, and test it before you leave the house by trying to lift your carry-on bag overhead. If you can’t do it without a lot of effort then consider dispersing some of the load by putting some of the heavier items in your personal item bag.

In any case, when getting your bag down, you want to make sure that you are squared up to it when removing it from the bin. Trying to grab your bag from an angle away from your body is a good way to flare up any shoulder or low back problems you may have.

If you are feeling unsure, always ask a flight attendant for help getting your bag down. They will likely be more than happy to help.


Try not to schedule your flights so early that you are unable to get a good night’s rest or so late that you are worn out from the day. Traveling while exhausted can leave you more predisposed to tweaking muscles or falling asleep on the plane which can lead to pain.

Move It Move It

Doing small movements when in your seat, and getting up occasionally to walk the aisle can make your trip a little more pleasant.

Try doing small head and shoulder circles, shaking your legs out, and doing glute squeezes 2-3 times per hour while you are sitting down.

Make sure to get up about once per 2 hours to stretch your legs as well.

Be Prepared

If you tend to get pain regularly from flying, make sure to keep some pain relievers on hand. It may be a good idea to take them before hand because they often take 20-40 minutes to kick in fully.

If you have a TENS unit for pain control, it may be a good idea to keep it handy as well. If you are concerned about traveling with your unit, ask me for a doctor’s note and you should have no problems getting through security.

It is also a good idea to keep some entertainment on hand. Having stimulating materials like a book, movies, or music, or games can help distract you from any chronic issues you may suffer from.

Follow these tips and you should be good to fly the friendly skies. If even after all that you still end up with a stiff neck or back, make an appointment for when you get back and I will get you straightened out.

Bon Voyage!