The Foolproof Way To Relieve Back Pain After A Long Flight Or Car Ride

Back pain is a problem many people can relate to: According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, up to 85% of Americans are expected to suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. Of those, half will experience multiple episodes of pain within one year.

However, sometimes back pain isn't from the back at all. That's often the case with travel-related backaches, according to celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak. "You've been sitting in the car for too long, you've been sitting at your desk for too long, you've been on a long flight, your lower back bugs you," Pasternak began in a video posted to Instagram. "Here's one of the main reasons your lower back is bugging you: It's because your hip flexors are tight."

Yep, that dull backache many of us experience after riding in a car for hours or sitting in a tiny plane seat might actually originate from our hips. Thankfully, Pasternak has an easy trick for relaxing tense hip flexors that can be performed anywhere, whether you're at a roadside rest stop or you've just hopped off an international flight.

Try these hip and back stretches to ease pain

Harley Pasternak's hack for minimizing travel-related back pain has nothing to do with support pillows or pain meds. Instead, he suggests relying on a simple stretch to loosen the hip flexors after you've been sitting for hours. In his Instagram clip, Pasternak suggests starting out with your stomach and knees on the ground and your legs bent, ideally with something sturdy behind you. Then, place your hands on the floor beneath your shoulders, pushing up into a cobra pose. "You're going to feel a stretch all the way from your knees to your hips and feel that relief all through your hip flexors, the front of your quads, all the way up to your lower back," the trainer explained.

The stretch is simple and easy to recreate, though you may want to grab a yoga mat, jacket, or blanket to put down on the ground if you'll be trying it outdoors or on an airport floor. If that sounds too complicated, Medical News Today suggests a basic deep lunge stretch as an alternative.

If your space is limited, do some small free-form stretches that focus on reversing any tension caused by your seated position. "Think of stretching into the opposite way of how [the body] had statically been," Brad Baker, physical therapist and performance coach at Future, shared with Well+Good.

Movement can also relieve post-travel back pain

Once back pain strikes after a long flight or road trip, you may want to continue sitting to alleviate discomfort. However, experts urge you to get moving as much as you can during and after traveling. "Sitting for prolonged periods is not great for the back. [Walking around] allows you to move and get a stretch in the legs in the aisle," Dr. Karena Wu, physical therapist and owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy, revealed to Better by Today. Dr. Wu also noted that too much sitting can lead to swelling and stiffness — two issues that could exacerbate back pain.

Similarly, orthopedic surgeon Dr. David DeWitt writes in a Spine-health article that remaining in one position can trigger back pain and even muscle spasms. He recommends taking a 15-minute break at least every two hours on the road (or, in the case of flying, getting up to walk around after every couple of hours in the air). Once you've reached your destination, a short walk or other low-impact exercise may also help shake out any remaining muscle tension and provide the energy you need for your vacation ahead.