Upper Back Pain on Prolonged Flights

Whether you notice it instantly or a few hours into your flight, airplane seats are not always supportive, and sitting in the same position for a long period of time can cause muscle pain. These problems makes long-haul flights uncomfortable, exacerbating and may cause upper back pain. Nearly 90 percent of flyers report back or neck pain after a flight, according to a 2008 study by SpineUniverse. Preparing for your flight in advance can help you avoid stiffness and keep your upper back supported during your flight.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Booking Your Flight

When booking a flight, prepare for upper back pain by asking for an aisle seat. This will allow you to stand up regularly and stretch, keeping your blood circulating and your upper back from becoming stiff. Having extra leg room also means more room to stretch, so take an exit row seat if possible. If your flight does not have assigned seats, see if you can obtain a special seat with a doctor's note about your back condition, or arrive early to ensure you are among the first to board.

Before You Leave

If you have upper back pain before your flight, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss possible stretches or medications before your trip. Your physician may recommend exercise, an anti-inflammatory medication, a muscle relaxant or even a vitamin supplement, depending on your condition. You can also ask about easing the pain with a heating pad before and after your flight. Some heating pads are portable, such as ski heating pads, but check with your doctor and airline before taking them aboard your flight.

Supporting Your Back

Planning for upper back pain ahead of time can make your flight more comfortable -- even when you're forced to endure unsupportive seats. Place a small pillow behind your lower back, which supports the natural curve of your back to ease upper back pain as well as lower back distress. If you don't have a tiny pillow, roll up a small blanket or sweater instead. Recline your seat once you're in the air if it alleviates the pain.

Avoiding Stiffness

Sometimes muscle stiffness is the culprit behind upper back pain. If you suffer from stiffness, place your hands on your knees and gently arch your back to stretch those muscles, or stand and touch your toes. Movement prevents stiffness. Whenever the fasten seat belt sign is off, take advantage of the opportunity to move around the cabin, whether you simply walk up and down the aisle or stand in the back and stretch for a few minutes.