Traveling Pain in the Neck…or Shoulders…or Back
Editor’s Note: The following is the second of a series of columns about fitness on the road, by personal trainer Annette Lang. It goes without saying that you should always check with your physician before beginning any fitness routine.
If traveling is becoming a pain in your neck…or shoulders…or back, here are some quick tips for maintaining good posture and preventing aches and pains on the road.
FREEZE! Don’t move.
The first thing you have to do to improve your posture is to become more aware of it.
Are you slouched down in your chair?
Is your upper body curled forward, so that your head is out in front of the rest of your body?
Many times the aches and pains that we experience are due to our habits. Sit in poor posture long enough and your low back will definitely start hurting. Same with your shoulders, and your neck.
In fitness this is called a muscle imbalance–some muscles are working too hard, and others are not working hard enough. After reading this, you will be able to look at yourself in the mirror, and be able to check your posture as you travel. I will also give you exercises that you can do on the airplane without anyone even knowing that you are doing them.
Start by getting a side look at yourself in a mirror. Where is your head?
It should be on top of your body, and not in front of it. Think of your head as a bowling ball.
You have to hold that up all day long. If you hold your head in front of your body, the muscles along the back of your neck get stretched.
Muscles don’t like to be longer or shorter than they are supposed to be–it’s called your resting length.
When they are stretched for hours, they tighten up, trying to keep your vertebrae as stable as possible. The opposite, deep muscles in the front of your neck get weak because they no longer have to work as much as they are designed to.
See if you can pull your head back so that it is on top of your body, with your ear in line with your shoulder. You should feel like the muscles in the front of your neck are tightening as you do this.
Now look at your shoulder. Maybe your shirt even looks like it is wrinkled forward, as well as your shoulder.
Follow this down to your hands. You should be looking at the back of your hand, meaning that your palm is facing your body. If your shoulders are rounded forward, your palm will be facing behind you. This makes the muscles in the front of your shoulders and your chest tight, and the ones at the back of your shoulders, as well as the muscles in between your shoulder blades too weak and over stretched.
Turn your hands and arms outward, so that your palms are facing your body, and try to pull your shoulder blades together. You should eventually be able to do this without straining.
When you are traveling, be aware of how you are holding on to your roller bag handle. If you hold it with your fingers facing down your arm will be in a better position than if your fingers are facing up, essentially rounding everything forward again.
Now look at your hips or pelvis. If you put your hands on your hips with your fingers on the front and your thumbs at the back, does it feel like your front fingers are lower than the back?
Try inhaling, then deliberately exhaling and gently pulling your navel in, tightening the muscles in your butt at the same time. This should help you get your hips back to neutral.
As you sit on the airplane, and several times during the day, do these posture exercises:
–Pull your head back (it’s not lifting your chin up–it’s pulling your head back) and hold for 10 seconds as you continue breathing.
–Turn your hands, and entire arms out, and at the same time pull your shoulder blades down and back and hold for 10 seconds.
–Pull your navel in while squeezing your butt muscles, and continue breathing as you count to 10.
Believe it or not, the more often you do these, the more aware you will become that you are not in good posture, and the easier it will be to sustain it.
A few simple stretches can also feel really good, especially on a long flight. As you sit up in your seat, with your head in the correct position, tilt your head to the right, bringing your right ear towards your right shoulder.
It is normal for your head to be able to go halfway towards your shoulder, and if not, you probably feel the muscles on the left side of your neck stretching. Just hold this position as you count to 20, then gently bring your head to the other side and repeat.
To stretch the muscles of your chest and the front of your shoulders, you can do it in your seat or standing.
Sit up tall, and bring your hands up and behind your head, crossing your wrists over each other as much as possible so you don’t whack the person sitting next to you!
Gently pull your arms back and hold for up to 20 seconds, and you will feel a stretch along the front of your chest and shoulders.
Now, for the muscles in your butt–sit up tall, and put your right ankle on top of your left knee. Gently lean forward with your chest until you feel stretching in your right butt and hold for 20 seconds.
Doing these exercises and stretches will make those trips much easier to bear, and help you avoid aches and pains that too many of us think are normal! Happy travels.
By Annette Lang for PeterGreenberg.com. Annette Lang is the author of Morning Strength Workouts. For more information about Annette, please visit her Web site, AnnetteLang.com.
For more health and fitness tips, click here.
Previously by Annette Lang on PeterGreenberg.com: