Ask Megan: Back Pain


Tara: I have taken several trips over the summer. I think the long car and plane rides have hurt my back and it feels like it’s going to give out. Can you suggest some exercises?

Megan, Mind the Mat: I don’t know many people who have NOT experienced back pain in their lives. Travel can certainly make back problems worse and even contribute to new symptoms due to stress, dehydration and the hours of sitting. The long periods of sitting put excess stress on the structures in the back of the spine. The back muscles can also weaken. As a physical therapist, I normally suggest a full evaluation by a PT in order to prescribe the correct therapeutic exercises and modalities specific to your back problem. We can also use manual therapy to improved joint mobility. However, I know it’s hard to see a professional while traveling, so my answer will be surprisingly basic but more helpful than one would think: just walk. Walking as upright as possible with your belly muscles “pulled in” can help to reset your spine into its optimal postural alignment.

Walking does not replace your normal exercise routine, add these simple therapeutic activities to your daily routine:

  1. Drink a glass of water at least 20 minutes before your walk, you may continue to drink throughout your walk as well.
  2. Choose a level surface outside. Stay away from trails and hills. The extra bumps and angles can make your back worse. A level treadmill would be fine too.
  3. Wear good shoes. Please do not wear your old running sneakers from two years ago that you wear for gardening or walking around town. You will need the support and cushion for your feet…it all starts with your feet!
  4. I tell my patients to “walk like you mean it.” Take long strides with an upright trunk and move your arms with a bigger natural arm swing.
  5. Feel your abdominal muscles pulling in as you walk. Pulling in is different from “sucking in” which can impact your breathing. Pull your abdominal muscles in and take deep breaths with the sides and backs of your ribs.
  6. Start with 10 minutes a day if you are really sore. You can build up to a half an hour.
  7. I suggest icing the back afterward for just 10 minutes. Lie comfortably on your stomach on the floor or on a mat while you are icing. If you have discomfort in this position, lie on your back with your feet propped up on pillows.
  8. Remember, this is a therapeutic walk. The regular walking you do during the day to get from Point A to Point B does not count. This activity will take some thought and effort, so make sure you reserve this time to help your back heal.

Want more? Pilates is an amazing method to help alleviate back pain. Email me ( for suggestions on the right program near you!

Originally published in Alexandria Stylebook: