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Travelling Aches

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Living in the city that never sleeps means travelling a lot, which can be tough on your system. Jagruti Verma tells you a few things you should know and offers helpful tips if your daily commute gives you a backache

That backache that keeps you up all night or which you get sitting at your desk could be caused by a multitude of reasons, and your travelling habits could be the biggest one. Travelling in the city is no joke! You’re either crushed in a crowded train, thrown around in a bus or spend many uncomfortable hours stuck in traffic in a car or rickshaw. So, we’re bringing you a few things you can do to help ease the stress of your daily commute, especially when it comes to the muscles in your back.

Dr. Abhay Nene, spine surgeon at Wockhardt Hospital in Mumbai Central, tells us, “When it comes to backaches, long distance travelling, your age and field of work don’t matter as much. What really plays a role is the kind of work that you are doing. If your job requires you to carry heavy things when you’re travelling or to regularly use public transport, your back could suffer. Bad roads can lead to back pain too. Bumpy roads can cause recurring injuries and strain your spinal discs.”

The local life
In Mumbai, most people travel by local train. Getting squashed is bad enough; even if you do get to sit down, your spine takes a beating, thanks to hard train seats.

Dr. Swapnil Mate, a specialist registered with as head physiotherapist for the HPE INDIA Physiotherapy Center, tells us, “Hard seats are bad for your health, because if you sit on them for too long, the soft tissues under your gluteus muscle (or bottom) slide apart, causing the hip bone or pelvis to come in direct contact with the hard surface, which eventually leads to bruises on your bone, abrasions, hip and sacroiliac joint pain and possibly even fractures.” Sitting on hard surfaces for long hours can cut off the circulation in your legs, leading to numbness in your toes. However, cushioned seats are not much better. “Sitting on cushioned seats for a prolonged time (while travelling long distance in a car, for example), can also lead to the same issue,” Dr. Swapnil adds.

Cramped spaces
Travelling by suburban trains during peak hours involves standing in severly cramped spaces and improper positions, possibly for a few hours every day. “This can lead to nerve compression in the lumbar spine, especially amongst elderly people who may already have some age-related degenerative spinal conditions. It can also lead to aching legs and weakness,” Dr. Kedar Deogaonkar, consultant spine surgeon at Hinduja Healthcare Surgical, in Khar, tells us.

Empty your pockets please!
You’ll never guess what can also cause spinal problems and backaches! Akshata Dorkadi, a senior physiotherapist at H.E.A.L Institute, tells us that one of the major causes for a backache during long distance travel is bad sitting positions in commuter vehicles. “A lack of support for the spine and forward pitching of the shoulders aggravate this pain,” she explains. Another strange thing that contributes to a backache can be an overstuffed back pocket. “Stuffing your back pockets with a wallet compresses your sciatic nerve and over time, leads to back pain that radiates to your legs. It might also throw your spine and pelvis out of alignment, causing changes in your spine, that give rise to back pain,” Akshata explains.

Helpful cushions
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you travel by train or car; the time you spend sitting in one position is what causes the most damage. Vaibhav Daga, consultant head of sports and a musculoskeletal physiotherapist, tells us, “The force or impact created on your inter-vertebral disc increases when you sit rather than when you stand, and sitting with a rounded back can damage your spine. Always use a cushion or pillow to support your lower back right at the tail bone (sacrum) when you are traveling. If you don’t have a pillow, use a rolled-up jacket, a sweater or a blanket to provide your lower back with adequate support. The same support can be used when you’re travelling in a local train.”

Your to-do list
Here’s a to-do list you can swear by. All the specialists we spoke to agreed with these pointers.

  • Always try to sit straight. Support your spine whenever possible and stretch your back muscles after a long journey.
  • Don’t sit for long hours when you’re travelling. If you find yourself in a train that isn’t too crowded, opt to stand rather than sit. If you’re travelling in a car or going on a long road trip, take breaks in between your journey.
  • Make it a point to exchange seats with your travelling partner if you’re travelling by car. The change will benefit you.
  • Empty your back pockets (at least for the duration of the journey) if you are sitting for extended periods while travelling.
  • Eat nutritious food, on time. We know that it’s difficult when you spend several hours a day travelling, but make an effort, because it’s definitely worth it.
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