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Posture Tips for Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Whether you travel by plane, train, or automobile, sitting in confined spaces for long periods can cause a number of problems - considerable pressure on joints, crimped circulation, increased risk of blood clots, stiff, cramped muscles, increased fatigue, back and neck pain, and knee discomfort.

Travel Tips for Planes and Trains
Good posture/body mechanics is the key to prevention of back, neck, and joint discomfort when traveling.

  • Make frequent posture changes: get up every 45 minutes or so to walk or stand.
  • Adjust the seat as best you can to an upright position.
  • Slide your butt back until it touches the back of the seat.
  • If there's a big space between your lower back and chair seat, use a lumbar pillow or rolled up sweater and place it behind your back.
  • Use a traveler's pillow to decrease neck strain when snoozing.
  • If your feet don't touch the floor, place a backpack or carry-on on the floor.
  • Shift weight frequently to reduce prolonged pressure on any given point.
  • Hips and Knees should be at ninety-degree angles.
  • Keep shoulders relaxed in line with trunk and upper back to allow even loading through spine.
  • Let forearms and elbows rest on armrests.
  • If armrests are too low or hard, use a small pillow under each forearm.

Travel Exercises
Feet and Ankles

  • Circle feet in one direction then the other.
  • Pump feet by lifting heels, keeping toes on floor.
  • Pump feet like pushing on a car accelerator.
  • Tap toes like windshield wiper blades on a car. Keep your heels on the floor and tap toes from left to right.


  • Inhale, pull oxygen down to bottom of rib cage. Feel chest expand. Exhale and pull abdominals in.
  • Reach arms towards ceiling and stretch upwards.
  • Turn body and head to look over right shoulder and then left.

Shoulders/Upper Back

  • Press shoulder blades back towards spine and then down towards waist.
  • Shrug and circle shoulders.
  • Lift shoulders towards back of head, then press them down.


  • Press neck to back of chair rest.
  • Stick chin forward, then pull it back (think of a turtle pulling its head back into its shell).
  • Turn head towards right shoulder then left.

Luggage Lifting Tips

  • Bend knees and use thigh muscles - don't lean over from waist.
  • Before lifting, pull abdominals in as tightly as possible.
  • Pivot with feet, don't twist spine.
  • Carry heavy items close to body.
  • Switch shoulders often, if carrying a shoulder bag.
  • Place luggage or briefcase in back seat of car from back door. Don't get in front seat and then twist to retrieve or place things in the back seat. If you have a two-door car, place luggage in the trunk, not the back seat.

Travel Tips for Automobiles
We all spend a lot of time coming and going in our cars. Most of the time, we're slumped over the wheel. The next time you're waiting for a red light, look into nearby cars. The drivers' heads will probably be hanging forward, their upper backs rounded over. This position not only contributes to poor posture in general, but is also tiring during a long drive. Good posture can help a driver stay comfortable and alert.

Adjusting Your Car Seat
You can adjust your seat so it will help keep your body properly aligned while you drive. All these little adjustments will make a big difference in your posture and comfort.

  • Move the seat close enough to the pedals and steering wheel that your knees are bent and your bottom rests against the back of seat. If the seat is too far away from the pedals, you will not be able to sit with your pelvis in neutral or with your bottom against the seat back. However, for air bag safety, you should be at least thirteen inches away from the steering wheel.
  • You want to be able to rest against the back of the seat and still sit up straight. Bring your seat to its straightest position. Ideally, it should incline no more than 110 degrees.
  • Adjust the headrest so you can sit with the back of you head resting against it. This position puts your head directly over your spine and allows your neck muscles to relax while you drive. It is also safer in case you are rear-ended. When the headrest sits at neck level, your head can snap back over it in a collision. If your car's headrest tilts too far back, make it thicker by attaching a rolled-up towel with rubber bands.
  • In driver education classes we all learned to hold the steering wheel in the ten o'clock and two o'clock positions. This encourages the driver to round the shoulders and raise the shoulders and arms, causing unnecessary tension in the shoulder and neck muscles. Instead, get a lower grip on the steering wheel, at nine o'clock and three o'clock. In this position, the upper arms hang more vertically and the shoulders are less hunched, which allows the neck muscles to relax, greatly reducing discomfort and fatigue.

Car Exercises
All those trips in your car are opportunities to build some posture work into your daily routine. Talk about turning things around - your car can help your posture instead of harming it.

The following exercises can be done while you're stopped at red lights. Don't try to do them while you're driving. They will help strengthen the mid- and upper back and abdominals. If you're on a long trip, they'll refresh you, too - do them at the rest area or when you stop for lunch. If you're a passenger, you can exercise while you're rolling along.

  • Lift up your rib cage and press the back of your head against the headrest. Stay lifted that way while you drive.
  • Press the back of your shoulders into the seat as if you were trying to bring your shoulder blades closer together. Hold for ten seconds without holding your breath then relax. Repeat several times.
  • Tighten your abdominals. Take a deep breath. As you exhale, pull your belly button toward your spine and hold for ten seconds. See if you can feel the bottom of your rib cage pull in. Don't hold your breath. Gradually build up to holding the abdominals for thirty seconds.
  • Lengthen your midsection. Pretend your spine is growing longer. Think of pulling your rib cage away from your hipbones. Pull your abdominals in snugly. See how long you can maintain this elongation at red lights.
  • Hug yourself by placing your hands on the opposite shoulders. While you keep your hands on your shoulders, press your elbows forward and round your upper back to stretch the muscles between your shoulder blades.

Car Shopping
Many car have seats that are too low, too soft, and too slanted. After several minutes of driving, the back and legs become very uncomfortable. Next time you're shopping for a car, investigate the following:

  • How straight can you get the backrest?
  • Is the headrest adjustable? Can it reach your head or only the back of your neck?
  • Does the headrest push your head forward too much?
  • Is the seat long enough to support fully the weight of both your thighs, especially the accelerator leg? (This distributes the body's weight over a wider area and prevents fatigue.)
  • Is the seat at the right height (or is it adjustable)?
  • Is the seat back too slanted? Does it cause you to lean too far back when leaning against it? Seats that aren't straight enough do not allow you to sit correctly.
  • Is the seat too soft? Does it sag in the center, causing your hips to roll to one side? A seat that is too soft allows you to slump and slouch.

Helpful Hint
Sit in your car with proper alignment as described above. Adjust your rear view mirror so you can see perfectly through it. You'll know you are slumping while driving if, when you look in your rear view mirror, you have to adjust it to see behind you properly.

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