Travel aches and pains

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The festive season is here once again! A time of celebration with the rising eagerness to travel. We’re pretty sure you’re counting down the days to your great year end travel, whether it’s to visit your loved ones, explore new destinations, or just some time off to clear out all your unused annual leave. For those of you fortunate enough to experience a white Christmas, we can only imagine the upcoming long haul flight! However, along with travelling comes many post holiday effects – not just in the form of back to work blues, but also as travel aches and pains accumulated from long journeys.

home alone gif



Ever wondered why it feels so good to stretch out those legs during the occasional toilet stop? Prolonged sitting can make almost anyone stiff (this includes time spent working at your desk). While sitting, fluid accumulates in the muscles, especially in the lower legs. When this happens, it may slow down blood circulation and promote muscle stiffness.

Not only does prolonged sitting cause stiffness to the muscles, it can also affect our joints. That’s why movement counters this effect. Nutrients are only pumped into the cartilage as the joints move, due to the lack of blood vessels in the cartilage joint surface. Moving your joints ever so often helps lubricate and nourish the joint surfaces. 



We decided that, as spine and joint care specialists, we had the responsibility to share and educate on some preventive measures since many of our Practice Members will be travelling during the upcoming holiday season. As there are two major modes of transport when travelling, we will cover methods that can help reduce the aches and pains in both of these situations:

By car

We all have that one friend or relative who has shared their story of getting stuck in the notorious “balik kampung” traffic on the North-South Highway. These trips are often tiring and brain numbing due to the long hours needed to  focus on the road. It doesn’t help when the rest areas are equally just as jam-packed or are closed for an untimely upgrading work.

However, if you’re able to find yourself a parking spot and can find some open space, here are some simple practical tips you can apply to prevent your joints from stiffening and to keep the blood flowing:

  • Side Bends
    – Lift right arm above the head and bend to the opposite side.
    – Hold stretch for 30 seconds (10 if you’re stopped at a red light!) then switch sides.
    – This helps to stretch out your latissimus dorsi muscle and obliques.
    seated side bends
  • Lower Back Rotational Stretch (Erector spinae stretch)
    – Sit cross-legged with your right leg crossed over the left, then rotate upper body to the right side.
    – Use your right hand to grab the chair for support.
    – Hold for 30 seconds then change sides.

Lower Back Rotational Stretch


  • Chin Tucks
    – Start with head slightly forward, then push head backwards to form a double-chin.
    – Hold this position for 3 seconds before releasing.
    – Repeat this 10 times.
illustration of chin tuck exercise

In addition to the above stretches, you can also make adjustments to your drivers seat before you begin your journey. This would help your body to maintain a good posture throughout the journey and prevent any injuries. 

  • Ensure your shoulders and glutes are as close as possible to the back of the chair.
  • Adjust height of the seat so your hands rest comfortably on the steering wheel. A good measure is that you should be approximately one arm’s length away from the steering wheel, with your wrist touching the top.
  • Adjust the seat tilt – ensure that the level of seat tilt is balanced enough that your thigh and glutes are fully supported by the chair. Your thighs should be parallel to the chair, or tilted slightly so that knees are lower than hips.


correct vs incorrect posture when driving


By plane

With airlines trying to fill up their planes with more and more passengers, leg-room has since become a premium for the masses in recent years. Cabin space is typically cramped and movement restrictive. Unlike travelling by car, you can’t stop as and when you please to stretch out your legs. Unless you’re fortunate enough to travel in business /first class, there are still some tips that you can apply during your flights.

Take the opportunity to move when you’re able to (and safe to do so) – be it for toilet breaks, periodically standing and straightening at your seat, or practising some seat stretches and muscle activation exercises. Some of these exercise include:

  • Shoulder Rolls
    – Roll shoulder forwards and backwards 10 times.
    – This is good in mobilising your shoulder, scapula, and upper back in order to remove built up stress and tension.
shoulder roll exercise illustration


  • Foot Taps
    – Lift your foot up then down, with the heel remained planted on the ground.
    – Repeat on the other foot.
    – This activates your calf muscle, as well as prevents the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
seated foot taps exercise
  • Crossover Arm Stretch
    – Stretch right arm across the body with left hand holding it in place.
    – Hold it for 30 seconds.
    – Repeat on the other arm.
    – This helps to release tension at your shoulder muscles, specifically your posterior deltoids.
parallel arm shoulder stretch
  • Knee Lifts
    – Lift right knee up to chest (or as high as you can go) and hold for 30 seconds.
    – Keep your back straight and brace your core while carrying out the exercise.
    – Repeat on the other knee.
    – This helps to activate your core and your hip flexors.
seated knee lifts

Beyond stretching, bringing along a travel pillow for either your lower back or neck would be helpful. This provides better support which helps maintain a good enough posture throughout the flight. Alternatively, you could use a makeshift pillow out of a jacket/towel to sleep on, which would help prevent yourself from falling asleep in awkward positions that cause muscle cramps and aches.

Another practical advice is to not over pack your suitcases. We have treated a fair share of Practice Members who injured themselves while trying to lift or carry their carry-on luggage during their holidays. Carrying suitcases that are too heavy may cause strain/sprain injuries.


woman lifting suitcase overhead cabin


An easy tip would be to use a trolley if it’s available! When placing your carry-on into the overhead compartment, bend at your knees to carry the suitcase or work together with the flight attendant for help to lift the suitcase up. Always use two hands to carry your suitcases and avoid twisting your lower back when moving around your suitcases – especially when you’re removing your suitcases off the baggage carousel. You don’t want to injure yourself unnecessarily before your holiday has even started!



These are just some simple and practical tips that we think you or your friends might find helpful during your holiday travels. However, if you’re reading this and are unfortunately experiencing aches and pains as a result of your recent travel, why not make an appointment to see one of our team members to get these complaints addressed.

Have a great holiday and we wish you safe travels to wherever you are heading to.



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