With the holiday season now upon us, many of will be embarking on some sort of travel to see friends and family. While short distance traveling does not usually affect our bodies as often, longer travels certainly do. Whether it be sitting in a car, train, or plane we are wreaking havoc on our bodies.
“Sitting is the new smoking” as the new analogy goes in rehab circles. New research coming out indicates prolonged periods of sitting each day (someone who sits 6 hours or more each day, even if they also exercise) can actually cause long term health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and even shorten one’s life expectancy. Intermittent bouts of sitting for extended periods, such as holiday traveling, can cause just as much damage in relation to posture, flexibility, joint mobility, and musculoskeletal pain.
The sitting position involves a shortening of the hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, pectorals, and cervical musculature among others. This can cause pain in any of one’s joints from the head to the toes. Most frequent complaints though are of neck, back, gluteal, and knee pain.
There are several stretches that can be performed during and after traveling to help minimize the detrimental effects of sitting. They are as follows:
1.) Standing Hamstring Stretch: While standing, prop one leg up on a chair/bench in front of you. Keep knee pointed to ceiling and knee straight. Keeping core tight and shoulders facing forward, hinge from hips forward until stretch is felt in back of thigh. Hold 30 seconds, repeat 3 times each leg.
2.) Standing Calf Stretch: Standing with one foot in front of the other and arms supported against wall. Keeping chest up, lean forward shifting weight into front leg. Keep back heel down and toe pointing straight forward, with stretch felt in back calf. Hold 30 seconds, repeat 3 times on each leg.
3.) Sitting Figure 4/Piriformis Stretch: While sitting, cross one leg over other so outside of ankle is on top of opposite thigh. Using your hands, push the knee of crossed leg down to floor until stretch is felt in gluteal region. Hold 30 seconds and repeat 3 times on each side.
4.) Single Knee to Chest: Laying on back with both legs straight to start. Alternate hugging one knee to chest, holding 10 seconds each times. Repeat 10 times on each leg.
5.) Upper Trap Stretch: Sitting in a chair, grab base of chair with one hand and let body weight lean in opposite direction. Then, let head fall to the side in the same direction as body until stretch is felt in neck. May add light assistance with opposite hand if more stretch is needed. Hold 30 seconds, repeat 3 times each side.
6.) Door Pec Stretch: Standing in a door way, bend elbows and place forearms on sides of door frame just below shoulder height. Staggering feet one in front of other, then step into front foot until stretch is felt across front of chest. Hold 30 seconds, repeat 3 times.
7.) Ankle Pumps: While not truly a stretch but just range of motion, it is very beneficial for blood flow and preventing blood clots in the legs with extended inactivity such as sitting on a plane. Done as pushing toes down as far as you can and then pulling up as far as you can repetitively. Perform 50 times per 30 minutes.
These stretches are meant to help with flexibility issues, but at times pain can also be associated with underlying weakness and lack of joint mobility. Remember, if you have any persistent pain after traveling, contact you healthcare provider ASAP!