Holiday Travel: Staying Comfortable and Injury-free

Planes, trains and automobiles. Tomorrow they are all going to be crowded as people head home from the Thanksgiving holiday. Luckily we have one of the countries most prominent physical therapists to help keep us comfortable and injury-free as we travel. Dr. Karena Wu, one of New York City’s most prominent physical therapists has tips we can use tomorrow or during any busy travel.

TSA Lines: Put down those heavy bags!!! If you are going to stand there and wait, turn it into an exercise session. Correct your posture, pull your abdominals in and stand equally on both feet, contracting the quads. I see people standing with their backpack or purse/tote on 1 shoulder, and their hip jutting out to the side as they bear all of that weight on one side of the body. It’s not great for the low back or the shoulder girdle because you are compressing one side of the body. People also slouch as they wait so again, stand upright and use your own musculature to hold yourself erect. Be smart and put down heavy items. When the line moves, turn it into a squat to lift the weight to move, or a straight leg move to slide your items forward and exercise the hip musculature. Your future is prolonged sitting so why not work out your muscles before you are stuck in your airplane seat.

Sitting in the plane: Movement helps with circulation. It forces you to contract and relax your muscles so that any fluids do not get stagnant and gives you a little exercise at the same time. Exercises like ankle circles/pumps, knee extension (straightening the knees), glute squeezes (squeezing your butt cheeks together) can help pump the muscles and give them a little workout at the same time. If you hold them for at least 10 seconds, you’ll really get the mini-workout component. Getting up and walking around the plane is a smart move as sitting for prolonged periods is not great for the back. This allows you to move and get a stretch in the legs in the aisle. You can stretch the quads-bend the foot back to the butt and the calves-stand 1 foot in front of the other to feel the stretch in the back of the lower leg while you are waiting for the bathroom.

Also, you can do upper body stretches in your seat. Triceps-bring the arm overhead, bend the elbow and then pull the elbow to the side, back of the shoulder-bring the arm across the body and pull it across further with the other arm, and abdominals-reach both arms straight overhead and stretch up and back. Any sort of movement is better than none so these are easy to do without infringing on your plane mate’s space.

Driving: try not to sit with your legs tucked under you or up on the seat. It squishes the soft tissue in the knee/hip area and shortens the muscles. When you unfold, you will feel very stiff from positioning that way for a long period of time. It can also compress the blood vessels and nerve so that you get pins/needles/tingling that is uncomfortable, and typically temporary.

Just like with sitting at a computer, it is recommended to stop and get out of the car every hour. You can do 10 backward bends-hands on the hips and move the head and shoulders backward behind the pelvis to counteract the poor sitting posture.

When driving for long periods, set the car on cruise control and you can do some toe curls/splay stretching, ankle pumps/circles, glute squeezes, abdominal bracing all when sitting, however use caution as attention should be paid on driving and not the exercises.

Anytime you can position the body into a good upright position that is great because nearly everyone sits with poor posture. Isometric holds (static contraction with long hold times) allow for people to pump the muscles to make them work without needing much space. It brings energy into an area that is otherwise dormant from prolonged posturing. It also kills time during your travel!

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