Airplane travel can expose you to uncomfortable positions and prolonged periods of stationary sitting, causing neck pain. Try these 7 tips to avoid neck pain next time you fly.
1. Pack over-the-counter medication
Over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (e.g., Aleve), can help reduce inflammation and lessen pain from a stiff, sore neck. Pack this medication in your carry-on luggage, making it easy to access if your neck starts to hurt during the flight. Or if you’re already dealing with chronic neck pain, consider taking the medication an hour before your flight so it gets in your system prior to takeoff.
These medications carry risks and possible side effects, so check with a doctor or pharmacist before use.
2. Use a travel neck pillow
The cramped space of an airplane can leave you susceptible to incorrect posture. Laying your head on the tray table or leaning against the window, for example, can lead to neck strain and muscle stiffness.
A travel-sized neck pillow can help keep your neck straight and upright during the flight, minimizing the painful effects of incorrect posture. One popular option is a scarf-like wrap that features a supportive brace inside the fabric. Wearing this pillow allows you to comfortably lean to one side without bending your neck too far.
Plan ahead for some enjoyable, relaxing activities that can help take your mind off the pain. Listen to soothing music or an interesting podcast on your smartphone. Bring a novel or magazine to read and stimulate your mind. Think about your vacation destination and all the fun activities you look forward to doing there.
4. Get up and walk around
Holding a sedentary position for several hours can lead to neck pain—and lower back pain, too. You may find some relief by walking up and down the aisle when the pilot turns off the seatbelt sign. Changing positions and keeping your body loose can help reduce the muscle tightness caused by sitting in an uncomfortable position.
5. Stretch it out
Stretching can help ease neck stiffness, loosening tight muscles and restoring the neck to a more natural range of motion. You can perform many simple, effective neck stretches while you sit in your seat. It is recommended you practice stretches you learned from a qualified health professional, such as a physical therapist.
6. Try a self-massage tool
You may find neck pain relief by using a handheld self-massage device while on the airplane (if the device is battery operated, check with the airline ahead of time to see if it is allowed onto the flight). A tennis ball can also be used as a self-massage tool and fits easily in a purse or laptop bag.
Some airports have a massage therapy business on site, where you can hire a massage therapist to help relax your neck before or after a long flight.
7. Apply heat and/or cold therapy
Heat therapy encourages blood flow, reducing stiffness and allowing the neck to heal. You can use a disposable heat wrap, for example, which you can put on the back of your neck before your flight. Some people prefer cold therapy for neck pain relief. Consider packing plastic bags, which you can ask a flight attendant to fill with ice so you can make an ice pack.
Try some or all of these tips the next time you travel on an airplane. Hopefully these ideas help prevent neck pain, so you can have a more enjoyable flight.