It's that beautiful time of year when we get to take a vacation. Whether it's long haul or an hour from home, trekking amoung ancient ruins, exploring the hidden streets of a european city or chilling out on the beach - you want to make sure that back pain doesn't wreck your time away. In Part 1 of this article I talked about back pain occuring during the travelling part of your trip. In part 2 I talk about how back pain can occur whilst you are doing the 'vacation' part of your trip and of course how to avoid it so you can enjoy every moment of the vacation that you have worked hard for all year and that you thoroughly deserve!
The Deck Chair
The deck chair, although a British institution, is the worst seating invention for back pain - ever! When you sit it the deck chair you have no spinal support at all - in fact it encourages the spine to excessively curve (see photo above) which can contribute to Ligamentous creep (read more about this theory here) and then to the intervertebral discs pressing out on to the nerves. On holiday when you want to sit for a good few hours in the sun perhaps reading a good book or the paper your back could really suffer from a lack of support in the deck chair.
Choose a more supportive chair with an upright back. If the deck chair is the only choice then pad the low back area out with a pillow, cushion or a towel so your back is more supported and get up regularly to walk around and stretch.
The Sun Lounger
The sun lounger is a more preferable choice to the deck chair as you can vary your position throughout the day. However, I myself am guilty of setting my lounger up so I can read comfortably for the entire day without changing. The worst angle is setting the back support at a 45 degree angle. It puts your back in a similar position to how it is in the deck chair. It is also common to crane the head forwards when reading which places strain on the back of the neck and upper back.
If you must use the 45 degree angle then place a towel or a cushion behind the low back to place your spine in a more neutral position. Rest the head back or support your head with a cushion or pillow avoid excess strain in the neck muscles. Also, changing up your resting position really helps to minimise the risk of discomfort. This can be a regular change in the angle of the back support to alternating between lying down and sitting, lying on your front and even on your side. The more variation of resting positions you use the better your back will fare.
Upping your activities
On vacation we like to do things that we can't do at home such as watersports and mountain sports .... We tend to forget on vacation how inactive we have been for the rest of the year in place of living in the moment and having an exciting time. The forces that go through your body during sports like windsurfing, waterskiing, mountain biking, are very high. These sports require excellent balance, strength in three planes of motion, co-ordination and endurance as well as a highly tuned neuromuscular system to react quickly to changes of direction. Boris biking a couple of times a week really wont cut it!
The best thing to do to prepare yourself is to train before you go. Ideally if you have an active nature then you should be training all year round so your body is aligned, stable, strong to withstand the forces of these adventure sports. We train clients in this way on our Fit for Life programme (LINK). If you are a spur of the moment person opt and are not fit for the sport then approach it sensibly and ask about modifications to minimise the risk of injury. Another good option for exercise on vacation is Hatha Yoga, tai Chi or Qi Gong - more gentle forms of exercise that carry less of a risk for injury. If you are heading East then these options will be plentiful! Many European resorts and main towns and cities have good yoga options too.
I'm not one for lying on the beach all day I personally get very bored. But I know many people who see the beach as the holy grail of relaxation and they can quite happily lie out in the sun all day without moving a muscle. This is not great for back pain or avoiding discomfort. If you are going to lie down all day and then sleep all night your muscles will quickly atrophy (shrink and lose strength). This includes the muscles surrounding the spine which leave the spine unsupported and vulnerable to injury.
Move regularly throughout the day by taking a dip in the sea or the pool. Play a ball sport or tag with your kids or friends on the beach. I remember when I was young my Mum used to chase me around the beach with soggy seaweed for hours of fun! If you are not keen on so much activity then just take a walk a couple of times throughout the day. Lastly, if you like to dance then go dancing in the evenings - it's a real calorie burner. Watch the ankles in the high heels though and avoid daring back bends if you are partial to a bit of back pain!
I wish you all happy and safe vacations wherever you are relaxing, exploring or going a little crazy! Remember these essential factors to minimise back pain occurring and look out for my article on safely returning to exercise post vacation which I am writing for The London Orthopaedic Clinic. It should be out when you are all back to your London routine!