Strategies for broad-shouldered talls on long flights
July 11, 2016 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I am mid-range tall, with broad shoulders, and nasty lower back problems. ... and will be spending 40 hours in the next week on a plane. Anyone have suggestions for how not to come out the other end in an unbroken piece?

I'm 6'4" (194cm) tall, most of it in my legs, however have pretty broad shoulders (50" (127cm) chest). I have a leaking lower disk that is an irritant, but manageable, however after most US-EU flights, I have a pretty pinched upper back and shoulders, the pain from which lingers for a few days. In the coming week, I'll spend 40 hours or so on various planes, but would like to be able to enjoy my destinations so...

What works for you to alleviate this? I take advantage of the extra 2-3" of leg-room that US carriers so generously sell you, and sit on the aisle so that I can lean outboard much of the flight and not have my elbow in someone's lap. I've tried tying a rolled towel to the armrests to raise them a bit, I've tried whisky, and I generally get up a few times to walk around or do pushup sets in the back to loosen my back up. Other suggestions?
posted by Seeba to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've always been an aisle chooser (6 ft tall, overweight, shoulders like a linebacker), but recently have been enjoying the window as there is often a bit of space over there to spread into. I get tired of being whacked in the arm, shoulder and head by people walking the aisle.
posted by cecic at 10:03 AM on July 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yoga every day. I have a bad back too and the difference even 15 minutes makes is astonishing. I use this $2.99 app when traveling. It's maybe the best $2.99 I've ever spent.
posted by something something at 10:07 AM on July 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

I have 15-24 hour flights a few times a year. It's probably too late for this trip, but I've found that I'm much less damaged after daytime flights than nighttime ones. I've also learned to enjoy the long layover - a night's sleep in a cheap hotel followed by the next leg.

Also, whiskey!

The stretching and push-ups are great ideas, but I find that more and more flights have removed all the extra space in the plane, and there's often not any room anymore to even stand around a bit.

I'm looking forward to hearing others' more concrete ideas.
posted by kanewai at 10:13 AM on July 11, 2016

Best answer: When I tweaked my lower back, I went to my doctor the week before a long flight. She prescribed muscle relaxants, aleve, and advil. While disk problems are obviously different, it would still be worth checking in with your doctor.

If this is a business trip, especially if there are more on the horizon, I've known people in the past who only flew business class for work trips because of back-related medical issues.
posted by Phredward at 10:20 AM on July 11, 2016

Many years ago, I was on a long-haul Turkish Airways flight where every 90 minutes or so, they would show a short video that lead you through several stretches that you could do without leaving your seat. It made such a difference, that I do similar stretches on every long flight. Raise your knee to your chest and hug it for a few seconds, rotating your ankle in every direction. Do calf raises, raising your heels and pushing through your toes for a few seconds. Do triceps stretches, putting your hand on the back of your neck and gently pulling on your raised elbow. Sit with an active, engaged core and gently roll your hips forward and back a few times. Roll your neck and shoulders periodically. A quick search for "Airplane yoga" reveals lots more options!

I definitely agree with others about getting up and moving around as much as possible - I do squats and plies in the galley, if I can. Also, drink lots and lots of water, which not only makes you feel better, it forces you to get up and use the bathroom more frequently - giving you time to stretch.
posted by writermcwriterson at 10:28 AM on July 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I agree with (mild) yoga and absolutely aisle seats. Negotiating elbows is one thing, but being wedged against the side of the plane for ten hours is just the worst.
posted by Namlit at 10:29 AM on July 11, 2016

I've found that if one is quiet, polite and being where the fewest crew members are congregating, like when they pass with all the carts head the other direction paying attention to getting back to your seat just as they are handing out stuff, there is no problem at all. They really know what's going on without looking, if one ducks back to the kitchen and I'm near I joke "can I get you a coffee". Mostly paying attention and being where the crowds are not.
posted by sammyo at 10:37 AM on July 11, 2016

Have you tried bringing a seat cushion? My spouse uses something like this, and has found it really helps with the butt/tailbone soreness that long flights can bring on.
posted by msbubbaclees at 10:37 AM on July 11, 2016

oh god, please don't take any non-doctor's advice about doing yoga when you have disc issues.

for me it helps to be able to stay as warm as possible; i always ask for extra blankets. plus muscle relaxants.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:54 AM on July 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You might pack and use a self massage tool after the flights. (I always pack one of these.) How to make one. You lie down on top of these and roll it slowly along your spine. If you find a sore spot, pause and kind of press your back into it. Then roll the balls a smidge further and repeat. The idea is that you can massage the muscles next to your spine; your spine lines up in the gap between the balls. This works for the whole length of your back, though be cautious between the shoulder blades.

If you can't lie down, press up against a wall with this works too though not as effectively. I also recommend all kinds of stretching. Sometimes taking advil as a sort of preventative helps me--I think the anti-inflammatory aspect helps keep my back problems from getting to that point of no return.

Also, pay attention to your posture while you move your luggage, especially if you have a roller bag you pull behind you. I swear this off-center pulling of a bag is often what kicks off my back pain more than the plane seats.

posted by purple_bird at 11:02 AM on July 11, 2016

Best answer: For me, it's important to change positions a lot so I don't get locked up.
Of course, stand and lunge and stretch in all ways possible when you can. I try to go to the back of the plane and tell the crew I have a bad back and need a moment to stretch.
If you can move yourself to a seat next to an empty seat, use it and try to lay/recline/sprawl a little.
But most importantly while you are sitting be aware of your pose and switch it up. Shift weight to the right, to the left. Sit straight up, recline, even rest forward with your face on the seat in front of you. Change how you are distributing your body weight every 20 minutes or so even while seated.
I also like to use that airline pillow on the small of my back, or under my legs. Just keep changing it up.
Taking a few Advil, muscle relaxers, or even magnesium is a good idea if it seems like it would help you.
posted by littlewater at 11:24 AM on July 11, 2016

When my back was hideously fucked and I was regularly flying transatlantic, I would spend large portions of my flights standing in the open areas near the bathrooms/kitchen in the back of the plane. I'd bring a book and hang out reading for an hour or so at a time.
As long as you're not actively blocking the service carts, no-one will mind.
posted by Kreiger at 2:13 PM on July 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

There is a travel pillow called a travelrest that makes all the difference for me. You look pretty dorky but it really works.
posted by fshgrl at 2:39 PM on July 11, 2016

I consider my inability to sit for extended periods to be a handicap worthy of reasonable accomodation. At some point, I will get a doctor's statement to that effect, but I haven't yet. My back simply won't let me sit in an airplane seat (or a stadium seat, or a church pew) for more than a few minutes at a time.

Stand up as much as you can.
posted by yesster at 2:48 PM on July 11, 2016

> i always ask for extra blankets

Wait no no don't do that, don't use the airplane blankets! I asked a flight attendant recently; she said they never wash them and that people do horrible things to them (she declined to give specifics).

I tried one of those massage stands at an airport during a layover, where you get a fully-clothed massage in one of those weird chairs, and was pleasantly surprised how much better it made me feel.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:22 PM on July 11, 2016

Best answer: Hello, long-lost-twin brother. I too am tall and broad of shoulder, and have disc issues around L4. A lot of the advice here is good, and I would add: you want the aisle seat, both because of the the risk of getting pinned to the window by another broad-of-shoulder passenger, and because of the next part of the plan: you're going to bring an empty gallon jug through the security gate with you, and then fill it at the water fountain after you're through security. Then your job is going to be to drink that sucker over the first three hours of the flight. This will force you to hydrate (flying is an absolute bastard for that), and will force you to get up and walk to the bathroom every 20 minutes. If I don't make myself do that, I tend to forget about the time when I'm reading/watching TV, and then it's been two hours and my spine is locked in place.

Also, if you're not already seeing one, find yourself a physical therapist who can give you a daily stretching/exercise regimen. Most of the things they will tell you to do are low-impact and don't require much equipment, and it only takers a couple of flights before you acclimate to the looks people give you when you lie down on the floor of the terminal to stretch out.
posted by Mayor West at 7:15 AM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Appreciate the thoughts all - - I will look at bracing/moving/rolling something on my back and a decent massage - makes sense; I use a foam roller at home to crack the hell out of it, and it usually helps a bit. Would love to get an upgrade, but that's a non-starter at our organization, and the same goes for the day-flight.

Went to the doc yesterday, so will get MRI results tomorrow, but lots of cortisone later, some muscle relaxants, and an antiinflammatory... we'll see how this goes!
posted by Seeba at 8:03 AM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

« Older Exposed wall interior material in living spaces   |   How to clarify mental health issues Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.