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I thought vacations were for relaxing?

Amy Savarese, DPT, MOT, OTR/L

The bags are packed, ipod is charged, and plane ticket is easily accessible. You're all set for a vacation full of fun and relaxation but why is it that after you reach your destination, you're fatigued, muscles are sore, and more than likely, you need a day to recover from traveling?

The answer can be summed up in five words: "One size DOESN'T fit all." Do you ever wonder why the seats on airplanes have gradually become smaller over the years? Of course, one must consider the current obesity epidemic in America and acknowledge that there is some truth to the fact that we can’t put all the blame on the decreasing size of the seats.  As a society we are getting larger but that’s a topic for another article.  Unless you've purchased a first or business class ticket, you will be seated in tight quarters for the duration of your flight. Your coach class ticket not only reserves seat 143E for you, but you are now deemed a "personal space invader," seated next to, or worse yet, between TWO other personal space invaders.  Who gets which armrest anyway?

The truth is traveling for an extended period of time via car, train, bus, or plane, places increased stress on the soft tissues in our bodies due to maintaining prolonged static postures. Muscle fatigue, decreased blood flow to soft tissues and abnormal stresses placed on the body produces physical discomfort. The following suggestions are useful in maximizing optimal comfort even in the smallest, most uncomfortable seats and can be applied to most modes of travel.

  • Alter your position frequently when seated, walk around at rest/fuel stops, or if on an airplane, stroll along the aisle.
  • If you are to select your seat, you are in luck! The exit row is the “first class” for the man with champagne taste on a beer budget. Of course, you must be willing to assist others in case of an emergency.
  • Utilize a lumbar cushion to place in the small of your back while seated. If you don’t have one a rolled towel, blanket or sweater will work just fine.  Placing one behind your neck can help minimize neck pain too.
  • Moving your foot up and down as if pressing on a gas peddle and off will help with circulation and minimize swelling due to changes in cabin pressure.   
  • Using hands free devices for cell phones will not only aid in preventing potential dangerous situations, but they will also eliminate stresses through the neck, shoulders and upper back.
  • If you don’t want to check your luggage due to increasing baggage fees, distribute the weight of carry-on luggage evenly between shoulders/arms.  Use backpacks with padded, adjustable straps or rolling bags with telescopic handles.  And, ladies AND gentlemen, if your bag is too heavy to place in the overhead compartment yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help from the friendly individuals who will be flying with you.
  • ATTENTION all Fashionistas!!! Wear comfortable clothing. New shoes? Pack them and break them in on another day. Your feet will be thanking you on your vacation.

    The may seem like simple suggestions but they work.  So if you choose to travel away from the white beach of St. Augustine this summer or fall, hopefully by applying a few of these suggestions you can get the most our of your travel both physically and financially. 

  Amy Savarese is a physical and occupational therapist. She provides hand therapy as well as treatment for a number of other orthopaedic and neurological impairments.