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  • Writer's pictureRiki Shore

Reducing Back Pain for Summer Travel: Tips for Flights and Beyond

A new client came to me this week with one goal: to reduce back pain during travel – before, during, and after a long flight.

Like many of you, she's preparing for a bucket list trip for her summer vacation and wants to feel her best in a far-flung land. For her, that means minimizing discomfort and increasing mobility in her back so she can handle long hikes and even longer flights.

You might be surprised to know that your feet are key. Here’s what I told her…


Composite image showing two scenes: on the left, a person in casual travel attire, rolling a suitcase, and holding a passport at an airport; on the right, a close-up of hands giving a foot massage. The image is branded with the text 'Pilates with Riki' in the center.

  • Check Your Shoes: Wearing supportive shoes with good arch support and a wide toe-bed can set you up for more comfort and less pain in other areas of your body. Your feet carry you around all day, so how you treat your feet affects how your knees, hips, back, and neck feel as you move through the day. Avoid flip-flops, replace worn-out shoes, and leave adequate time to break in new shoes before boarding the plane. This is possibly the easiest tip on the list, so it’s a good starting point. My go-to lifestyle sneakers are these Altras.


  • Show Your Feet Some Extra Love: If your feet are cramping or you have knots in your arches, they can’t respond to inputs from the ground, move freely, or perform the way you need them to. When this happens, your calves, hamstrings, and glutes start to work double-time to make up for the feet. The solution? A simple foot massage using a tennis or lacrosse ball. This technique is easy to perform and can be done safely every day or even twice a day. Remember, supple and strong feet are the name of the game.


  • Lengthen Your Legs: Tight hamstrings are one of the most common complaints I hear. Hamstrings connect into the pelvis, so they can pull on the low back, creating tension, poor movement patterns, and even back pain. The solution is to lengthen your hamstrings without simultaneously hurting your back. The old "legs up the wall" stretch is safe and effective and can feel extra good after a long day on your feet. This video shows adding a lacrosse ball under your glutes, which you can certainly do, but it will add intensity, so inch into it and let pain be your guide. If you can’t breathe fully while doing this, stop and try again tomorrow.


  • Stabilize Your Core: An unstable pelvis leads to muscle strains and pains over time. Your abs and glutes need to stabilize your pelvis to produce healthy movement patterns as you go about your day. Try the simple test below to determine how well you're firing your stabilizing abs. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat, and place your fingers on your hip bones, then move them in toward your belly button just a little. Cough or laugh. Feel the muscles pop up into your fingers (this is your transverse abdominus (TA), the deepest core muscle that protects your organs and stabilizes the spine and pelvis). Now, try to fire those same muscles without coughing or laughing. Can you hold it for a count of 10?


  • Marching Exercise: Once you can engage the TA muscle, do so while lifting one knee above the hip, then placing the foot back on the mat. Repeat with the other leg. Keep alternating legs up to 10 per side. Watch that the lifted leg is truly above the hip (not the belly). The thigh should be perpendicular to the floor, and the calf should be parallel. As you place each foot down, gently apply some foot pressure to the mat and feel how your feet help you stabilize while the other leg moves. This 7-minute Pilates for Beginners video includes Marching at 4:40. We started with the feet, and this leads you perfectly back to the starting point when you practice these exercises the next time! Remember, your feet are crucial in this process, so take care of them.


Ready to take the next step in reducing back pain and improving your overall mobility? Join me for more tips and exercises on my YouTube channel, where I share expert advice and routines to help you feel your best. Don’t forget to subscribe! And check out my online and in-person live classes for personalized guidance.


Let’s make your summer vacation travel experiences pain-free and enjoyable!

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