5 stretches that relieve neck and back pain while traveling

Counteract the affects of that long car or plane ride with these simple stretches.
Image: Woman at airport waiting area
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By Stephanie Mansour

The winter holidays mean a lot of family, food and fun, and for many Americans that means traveling to get to their family gatherings.

According to AAA, last year was a record-breaking travel year with an estimated 112.5 million Americans traveling for the holidays between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. So we know what to expect when we hit the road — or the skies — this year.

While the celebrations we travel to are fun, getting there isn't always enjoyable. Flight delays, traffic snarls and grumpy traveling companions can make any trip tiring, but the biggest buzzkill to holiday travel may just be the effects to our physical wellbeing.

Back and neck pain can often be the unwelcome side effect of a long day's holiday travel. All that luggage lifting, rushing between gates, and those long hours of sitting put all kinds of stress on our bodies, especially our back and neck. (Not to mention tossing and turning on your mother-in-law’s pull-out couch for a long weekend.)

You may not be able to cut down on time spent sitting on a plane or in a car, but there is something you can do to lessen it’s effects on your body: Move as much as you can. Easier said than done, but worth the effort. You can not only reduce stiffness and muscle soreness once you arrive at your destination, but any form of movement can help reduce the chances of a blood clots during travel.

The following moves will help increase blood flow throughout your whole body — something that can get stymied when you're flying high in the air. Also, if you’re stuck in the car for a long road trip, getting the blood flowing and heart pumping can help to boost your immune system and keep you healthy. Finally, these moves are also devised to help stretch the tight muscles of the neck and back that can become even tighter from excess sitting.

One-Arm Pump Up Stretch

Keeping one hand on the steering wheel (or you can do this with both arms if you’re on a plane or a passenger in a car) perform this pump up stretch. Bonus: This also serves as cardio! To do this, pump your right fist up above your right shoulder. Reach up through your right fist, and ground down through your right hip. Feel a stretch along the right side waist. For more of a stretch, lean over to the left. Hold this for a few breaths, and then switch sides.

Chin Jut

This exercise is great to improve posture and align your cervical spine. The neck can begin to round forward and the spine can come out of alignment from poor posture or being hunched over from driving or sitting in uncomfortable airplane seats. Simply jut your head and chin forward as if you’re trying to touch a button in front of your chin to press play. Then, bring your head, neck, and chin as far back away from the button as possible. Repeat this 10 times.

Shoulder Shrug with Head Turn

This exercise helps increase mobility in stiff shoulders and overworked upper arms from loading luggage or carrying a backpack. Shrug the shoulders up towards the ears as high as you can. Then release the shrug and turn the head quickly to the right. Bring the head back to center, shrug the shoulders up again, and then turn the head quickly to the left. Repeat this 5 times per side.

Single Knee Hug & Extends

If you’re seated on your commute or stuck on a delayed flight, this exercise will help improve circulation in your hips and lower body. While sitting, hug your right knee in towards your chest. Pull it in as far as you can while keeping your left foot on the ground. Then extend the right leg in front of you and flex the right foot to feel a stretch up the back of the right leg. Repeat this 10 times on the right, and then switch to the left side.

Flex & Point

While seated on a plane or as a passenger in the car, you can do this exercise one leg at a time or both legs at once to stretch the calves and hamstrings. This will help to strengthen and lengthen the lower body that may otherwise feel cramped throughout your travels. Extend both legs out in front of you a few inches above the ground and point the toes. Then flex the feet and lower the legs back down. Point the toes to lift the straight legs up, and then flex to lower back down. Repeat this 10 times, swiftly moving through the exercise.

More stretches for pain relief

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