Mr Chatterjee is spinal lead Consultant at Highgate Private Hospital and Harley Street Spine, and here he advises on supporting your spine on a skiing trip.
The Journey – Keep mobile
Sitting for prolonged periods puts pressure on your spine, so you need to get up and mobilise as frequently as possible. If on a plane or train, go for a walk down the aisle and find some room to do gentle stretching (fully extending your knees and lifting your toes towards the ceiling. If driving, stop every 90-120 minutes and do the same. Some cars even have a bell to alert you to stop every so often.
Planes are much busier at peak times, so check before you fly if you can book a seat with no-one sitting next to you. Or in the emergency rows which legally have more leg room. Then it will be easier to move, stretch and alter your sitting position. It’s also easier to access your belongings from under the seat in front of you although we would advise that you store your hand luggage above you if possible.
Use a back roll or some pillows to put behind your back to keep your spine straight and stop slouching and try to keep your knees at a right angle. Research suggests the ideal angle is 135 degrees with lumbar support but you won’t be able to do that unless you’re in Business class or above. Try to put something on the floor to prop your feet up to maintain that right angle.
You can make an ice pack on board if you pack some freezer bags that can be sealed (Ziplock type) and a thin tea towel in your hand luggage. Ask for some ice and fill the bag and then wrap the tea towel around it.
Paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen are helpful. Take them about an hour before you journey to give them time to work and you may need to take some on board if on a long distance flight. Muscle relaxants such as diazepam can help (only available on prescription from your doctor) but a glass of wine or beer can also help in that regard but don’t drink too much as dehydration worsens back pain.
If you have spinal stenosis then you’ll generally find that flexion of your back is easier to tolerate than extension. When flying and if you’re lucky enough to have a seat that becomes a flat bed then don’t fully flatten it but leave it 15 degrees from full extension as that will help.
Banned in hand luggage but can help when you finally arrive at your hotel. Purchase both types that can be frozen or heated (or bring one of each). These are good for treating sore muscles, back pain, and swelling.
Massage is a great way of relieving stress, tension and stiffness in your back. But beware hotel massages can vary a lot in strength, so make sure that you tell the staff about your back condition before you start and feedback to the masseur through the massage to adjust the depth of the treatment.
Personal preference – whatever feels more comfortable will help you sleep better. In terms of temperature. Contoured pillows, which have higher sides for the neck and a lower area for the head, are reportedly the coolest. Feather pillows (standard shape) are the warmest. The contoured memory foam pillows are in the middle.
A pillow contoured to support the spaces under the head and neck can be helpful for people with neck problems. Also known as an orthapaedic pillow, it has a deeper depression where the head lies, and extra support under the neck and around the sides. Note that for some people, it takes a while to adjust to these pillows so you may not want to try them for the first time on holiday.
Body pillows are as long as the body and help people who prefer to sleep on their sides. The top portion can support the head and neck, while the bottom portion supports the knees and legs. Women who are pregnant may prefer the added support for the abdomen.
Throwing the top leg too far across the body pillow while side sleeping can cause the lower back to twist and should be avoided. The legs should remain aligned, one directly over the other, with the pillow in between.
- Mr Chatterjee works with a medical team specialising in all forms of spinal surgery from skull to pelvis and minimally invasive ‘keyhole surgery’ and spinal treatment in the elderly.