It is almost inevitable that you will suffer at least some minor aches and pains while traveling. Lack of activity and keeping your body in the same position for an extended period of time can take its toll on the legs, back, neck, and other parts of the body. Often travelers have little control over their traveling conditions—they might endure long waits, endless hours in a seated or standing position, heavy bags to haul at odd angles, and cramped quarters that don’t allow for much movement or stretching.
Below are some of the most common muscle pains you could feel while traveling, as well as tips for preventing and treating these aches and pains.
Types of Pain
- Aches— A dull persistent pain that is usually felt when your body is at rest. Aches generally feel better after you start moving and warm up the muscles.
- Tingling/asleep— A numbing sensation or loss of feeling when a nerve is pinched. Once the source of the pinching is found and alleviated, the sensation should improve.
- Cold— When muscles are contracted, affecting circulation. Cold muscles are often helped by moving around and increasing blood flow to the cold areas.
- Cramps — A sudden contraction in the muscle. Relaxing the muscle by stretching should reduce or eliminate cramps.
- Knots— Occur when muscle fibers do not relax. Massaging the knots and stretching the muscle can help relax the fibers.
- Spasms— Severe cramps that come and go. As with cramping, relaxing the muscle by stretching should reduce or eliminate spasms.
Regardless of how you get there, you can take steps before you go that may ease your travel pains.
Decrease the Strain
- When flying:
- Travel light—The less you bring, the less you have to carry. Checking the heavier baggage and/or using a luggage cart can decrease the strain on your body.
- Leave the work at home—Trying to work on a laptop or other projects can cause eyestrain, odd back/body position, and added stress. If possible, try to limit the amount of time you spend on these activities.
- Find a comfortable position—Adjust your seat so it is as comfortable as possible. Use a pillow, blanket, or a traveling neck rest.
- Give yourself space—When possible, try to put luggage in the overhead bin, check luggage, or leave it in your hotel room. This will give you more room to stretch out.
- Request an aisle seat—This should give you at least a little extra room to do stretches and will disturb fewer people when you want to walk around. This will also prevent blood clots in the legs (deep venous thrombosis ), which is one of the most dangerous travel maladies.
- Stretch—Stand up and move around whenever possible. This warms up the muscles that are tight from stress.
- When driving:
- Move your seat—Be sure that your seat is positioned close enough to the steering wheel. Also, when sitting, your knees should be a little bit higher than your hips.
- Do car exercises—Even though you are driving, you can still move your muscles. For example, stretch your toes, tighten and relax your leg muscles, or move your shoulders back and forth.
- Be aware of your grip—Periodically relax your grip and switch how you are holding the steering wheel.
- Pull over—Driving can make you feel tense and tired. Be sure that you rest your mind and body by taking a break from the road.
Take Care of Yourself
Make good health choices when traveling:
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Try to eat well and drink plenty of fluids while traveling. Dehydration and a lack of nutrients can increase your risk of getting aches and pains while traveling.
- Put aside time for relaxation and exercise. These are both great ways to decrease stress.
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes.
- Avoid eating fast food. Prepare healthy and nutritious snacks prior to traveling.
If you are suffering from travel-related aches and pains, try the following tips:
- Rest aching muscles.
- To increase blood flow, do light to moderate exercise.
- Try heat therapy. Hot showers, heating pads, and hot compresses may help to relax muscles.
- If recommended by your doctor, take over-the-counter pain medications to relieve pain and stiffness.
- Give yourself a mini-massage.
When to Seek Medical Treatment
While many travel aches and pain will go away on their own, get medical treatment if you have:
- Severe aches that do not go away after doing the personal care steps, like applying heat, ice, or taking over-the-counter medication
- Other symptoms along with muscle pain—such as fever, headache, weight loss, sore throat, rash, redness, swelling, abdominal pain, or loss of muscle strength
- Pain that travels down the limbs
- Numbing or tingling sensations that persist
- Signs of a possible blood clot in your leg—such as lower leg swelling, pain, tenderness along the thigh, or warmth
American Massage Therapy Association
American Physical Therapy Association
Public Health Agency of Canada
Bon voyage to muscle aches & pains: Expert tips for pain-free travel. World Travelers of America website. Available at: http://www.worldtravelers.org/travel-health-bon-voyage.asp. Accessed February 2, 2016.
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 29, 2015. Accessed February 2, 2016.
Tips to prevent the travel aches and pain. University of Tennessee Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.utmedicalcenter.org/healthy-tips/60/tips-to-prevent-the-travel-aches-and-pains. Published June 19, 2011. Accessed February 2, 2016.
- Michael Woods, MD