Traveling by air can be bad enough. Traveling with back pain can be excruciating. There is relief, though.

Besides packing dozens of pain relief, which would be deadly — and maybe illegal depending on your destination — some common sense solutions can be found.

John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.” Reaching out for help, before and during, air travel can be the start of a pain-free trip.

Physician Help

Request assistance from your physician. Your physician can be your best friend when you prepare to travel

Ask your physician to provide a note to the airline. Despite airlines being criticized for shoddy customer service, often a medical letter is just what is needed to convince the flight team to provide special accommodations.

Ask your physician if it would be possible to provide extra prescription medication such as pain relievers or muscle relaxers to make the trip easier.

Airline Assistance

Several weeks prior to your trip — a month or more would be ideal — contact the the airlines to discuss your medical situation. With notice, most airlines can:

• Provide medical help, if needed, such as a wheelchair or early boarding privileges
• Have airline staff transport your baggage and put it into overhead storage
• Provide carts and stands for boarding
• Provide suggestions for flying, and passing security, with electronic medical units
• Allow non-medial helpers escort you through screening and boarding

Plan Your Flight Strategically

When booking your flight consider the sort of itinerary that may be less stressful:

• Consider flying when there may be less individuals and more space to stretch out
• Try to restrict “down time” caused by connections or delays
• Don’t plan a trip that will demand an extremely early wake-up call

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Pain Medication

Use non-prescription pain medicine such as Tylenol, or NAISDs, to get pain relief during the flight.

Be sure to:

• Use your pain medicine one hour ahead of take off to allow enough opportunity to get in your system
• Bring pain pills in an airtight bag and keep them with you always
• Inform the employees that you are taking prescription medicines


If lower back pain is bothering you, be sure to provide support for the lower back with back support or just a few pillows. A U-shaped neck pillow can help relieve neck pain and back braces are also common companions for people with lower-back pain.


Pay attention to your physical position. Plane trips can be uncomfortable especially if you’re not in first class. If your limbs are not at the preferred angle, ask for anything to prop your feet up and hold your joints at a comfortable angle. Propping the feet will help keep pressure off the back. Exit row seating can provide relief for someone with longer legs.


Alternate often between ice and heat. Usually applying each at 15-minute intervals will help extend the muscles around the vertebrae and diminish pain signals. Ice treatment can dull back pain. Be sure to:

• Collect plenty of ThermaCare wraps and use while in the air
• Carry a dry hot water container and ask the flight attendant to fill it
• Carry a little gel pack and ask the attendant to set it in the cooler
• Have a Ziploc on handy and request that it be loaded with ice

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Obviously, don’t place heat or ice right on the skin, but wrap it in a towel before placing it on the painful spot.


Relax and get some sleep. A lengthy trip will give you plenty of opportunities to relax. Try:

• To get comfortable with spine or neckline support, sit properly and recline your seat
• Breathing slowly to relax the tissues and nerves
• Listen to soothing music
• Bring reading material that can divert awareness away from back pain
• Looking at the scenery and clouds
• Thinking about your vacation and how much you’ve been looking forward to this day.