Vacation Back Pain And Summer Sciatica: 6 Tips

Beautiful girl lies on hammock on the beach reading book.

Long, lazy days of late summer signal vacation and travel opportunities for many in the northern hemisphere. But what if you’re prone to back pain or sciatica, or you feel the ‘ouch’ of pain during what’s supposed to be the restorative time of your year? Family time, golf and tennis time, exploring and socializing can go off track, to say nothing of your financial investment …we all want a good vacation ROI.

As a physical therapist specializing in prevention and rapid resolution of spine pain, the ring of the phone or ping of an email at this time of the year often means a patient is reaching out in distress, from a distance. Having fielded summertime calls from the Hamptons to Italy, I can say advising over long distances is more challenging – and more heartbreaking – than if a vacationer could start his or her journey with empowering prevention and management tips.

Further, the frequency of such calls tells me that back pain and sciatica related to travel is a true phenomenon – I’ve tagged it summer sciatica at this time of year – and is usually triggered by the flexed forward, cramped position of getting to your destination by car or plane.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so here are six tips to pack along with your gear, especially if you’ve had back pain or sciatica in the past:

1. Before your vacation, begin a series of gentle prevention exercises. Simple extension exercises (bending backward from the waist), in standing or lying prone, can be helpful for most.

2. Plan how and when you’ll interrupt your seated posture during your travel. On a long drive, where can you stop, walk around, and gently bend backward a few times? On a flight, arrange an aisle seat to make standing up and doing the same easier. Be disciplined about an every hour-or-so schedule.

3. Be confident and secure in doing your prevention exercises and managing your travel. Since 80% of Western adults will have back pain sometime in their lives, you may get nods of recognition as you stretch. A small investment in a slightly longer car trip can prevent a large loss of vacation time and enjoyment.

4. When you get to your destination, avoid excessive forward bending, the combination of bending and twisting, and using the muscles of your back to lift, especially in the morning.

5. Pack a copy of Robin McKenzie’s Treat Your Own Back as a quick-reference guide and resource in case you do have low back pain or sciatica symptoms. As McKenzie recommends, I too, find lying on the stomach, relaxing, with progressive gentle elevation on your elbows, is effective in 75% of cases to help symptoms calm down and subside.