Don’t Let Back Pain Get You Grounded

Dr. Alesha Fleming/ Chiropractic Physician

There is a growing prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders that can arise from long periods of sitting, with neck and back pain being some of the most commonly reported problems.  In fact, news outlets such as Forbes and The Huffington Post have even suggested that sitting is just as bad for your health as smoking1,2!  About forty percent of young adults spend most of their time at work sitting1.  Many of these individuals may experience significant benefits from implementing basic ergonomic changes in their workspace.  For pilots, there is not much that can be done to adjust your working condition to help prevent the onset of many types of joint and muscle pains.  Recommendations made for other individuals with desk jobs do not apply.  It is not possible to alter the height of your computer or adjust the different knobs and rudders to accommodate your size.  It is also not possible to recommend spending some of your time at work standing, or taking breaks from sitting to walk around the office.  This makes prevention of back and neck pain in pilots a bit more complicated to manage.  The good news is that prevention, though slightly more elusive, is not impossible!

The most common problem I see in young pilots is lower back pain.  This is probably not surprising, as from what I hear, planes can be very cramped, leaving little room for adjustments.  Since modifying the workplace is not an option for pilots, here are some things that can be done to prevent the onset of back and neck pain.

  1. Stay hydrated. This is especially important for longer flights. Dehydration has some adverse effects on your body, including decreasing the pliability of the discs in your spine, making them less likely to tear and turn into disc herniations.
  1. Exercise regularly. There are numerous health benefits associated with regular exercise. Virtually all organ systems can be positively affected by engaging in just a few minutes of physical activity each day. Focusing on core strengthening exercises will allow your body to withstand significantly more stress before tissue damage occurs.
  1. Practice proper lifting and ergonomics in other aspects of your life. Most patients who visit our office with back pain experience the onset of these symptoms while performing their usual daily activities.  Something as simple as bending down to tie your shoes or reaching for a plate from your kitchen cabinet can be “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and sends pain shooting down your spine.  Practice good posture throughout the day and avoiding slouching as you sit at your desk or walk across campus.  If you need to do any heavy lifting, lift by bending at your knees, and not at your waist.  Finally, avoid activities that cause you to bend and twist at the waist simultaneously. Disc injuries in the low back are most commonly associated with this combination of movements.

Following these simple recommendations can significantly decrease your risk of falling victim to potentially debilitating back pain.  For more information on injury and disease prevention, you may directly download my eBook for free at