Back in the air

Finally, after two long years of flight cancellations and rescheduled holidays, we can once again imagine exotic adventures or visiting family and friends interstate and overseas.

By Physiotherapist, Robyn Gant


After working from home in less than ergonomic conditions and binging on streaming platforms for hours, our bodies might be deconditioned for travel demands, leaving us vulnerable to injury.

Not all of us are lucky enough to have a travel buddy who’s also a great physio to fix each other, as we often do. The last thing you want is an injury to ruin your long-awaited holiday!

Physio travel buddies

Physio travel buddies Robyn and Susie at the magnificent Alhambra Palace Granada, Spain

Avoid baggage back

Back injuries from lifting heavy luggage are all too common and can ruin your trip. So try these tips to avoid lifting your luggage at check-in and the carousel. Click on the hyperlinks below for a demonstration.

To avoid lifting your luggage onto the belt when you check in at the desk, you can tilt the bag with the handle facing you and ask the operator to advance the belt. The belt grabs the bag and moves it forwards, and all you need to do is guide it with your fingers.

People often panic when they spot their luggage on the carousel and tend to rush, resulting in poor lifting techniques and causing a potential injury. So, it’s best to give yourself time and space to remove your bag safely.

My technique is to squat and reach for the handle with both hands, drag the bag to the carousel’s edge, which will stop it from moving, then rotate the bag so that the wheels are over the edge, and drop the bag onto its wheels.

Voilà! Two effortless techniques to avoid lifting your luggage!

Save your neck

Unless you’re very tall, it’s best to avoid placing heavy bags in the overhead compartment as this requires overreaching and lifting above your head, and when you remove the bag, it falls towards your head, requiring you to catch it. Both these actions can strain your neck and shoulders. It’s best to store bulky lighter items, such as a jacket, in the overhead locker that you don’t need until you’re ready to land. Keep everything you’re likely to need during your flight within easy reach under the seat in front.

Carry-on luggage

If you’re not up the pointy end of the aircraft and want a decent snooze without wrecking your neck, I recommend the Cabeau Air Evolution inflatable neck pillow. The unique difference with this pillow is the front closure which keeps it secure around your neck. You can also wear it backwards for extra support under your chin for a solid night’s sleep. No dribblers here! Because it’s inflatable, you can adjust the firmness to suit your neck, rather than the bulky memory foam or bean bag versions that don’t do up at the front, push your head forward and take up too much valuable space in your luggage.

Travel pillows

Left: Air Evolution inflatable neck pillow. Right: Tempur compact travel pillow.

If you suffer from neck issues, you might prefer to take a Tempur compact travel pillow that rolls up into a small bag. You can add a folded towel underneath to adjust the pillow’s height. You might think this pillow is too narrow, but we rarely use the outer sections of our regular pillow.

When travelling from place to place, it’s a rare thing to have a pillow menu. So, here’s a great tip for creating adjustable support for your neck if your pillow feels too soft or flat. Roll up a towel or thin bathmat along its short edge and place it under the bottom third of your pillow inside the pillowcase, giving you softness on top and support underneath. Your shoulders should be off the pillow, so the rolled towel is under your neck. You can reduce the level of support by unrolling the towel.

Happy feet

Prolonged sitting on long-haul flights can cause lymphatic congestion, which might cause generalised swelling, especially in your feet. Swelling in your feet causes your shoes to become tight, which can irritate the nerves in your feet, causing pain. You can avoid lymphatic congestion and assist your recovery from the flight by wearing compression leggings such as Skins or 2XU under loose clothing. These garments are designed for sport and are moisture-wicking, avoiding overheating, and you can add compression flight socks over the leggings.

When travelling, we can walk up to 400% more than we do at home. Sudden increases in loading can result in blisters, heel pain, stress fractures, and flare-up arthritic joints. So, it’s essential to build up your activity gradually over two months before your trip to allow your body to adapt safely to the increased loading.

Walking on cobblestones and uneven terrain can be brutal on your feet, so you’ll need shoes or sandals with thicker soles and a good grip that are secure on your feet. If you’re hiking, prevent blisters with wool fleece by Scholl or Tramper’s Friend or take Band-Aid Blister Block to treat blisters.

Just in case

I’ve had my fair share of mishaps and medical issues whilst travelling. My most spectacular injury in Goreme in Turkey occurred when I was distracted and missed a step injuring my knee, that had previously undergone three surgeries. With a bandage, walking stick, and expert care from Susie we received “rockstar treatment” at the airport avoided queues, and assistance getting on and off the plane. This taught me to always carry a bandage. Ten days later I was able to manage the 500 steps to the monasteries of Meteora!

Left: Gozleme in Goreme with my knee on ice. Middle: Hillside in Delphi with walking stick. Right: Meteora monasteries.

Here’s my list of medications that have gotten me out of trouble:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication or gel such as Voltaren rapid (check with your GP if you have gut problems for a suitable alternative)
  • Analgesics such as Panadol. Mersyndol or Dolased are more potent analgesics that contain a muscle relaxant that can ease muscle spasms and are available on prescription.
  • Arnica is very useful for acute injuries where swelling and bruising are present.
  • Antibiotics such as Keflex for bacterial infections can be a saviour, which can become serious if not dealt with promptly.
  • Hiprex is an antibacterial urinary alkaliser and is a godsend for anyone suffering a urinary tract infection.
  • A new addition COVID kit: Take a supply of disposable KN95 masks and Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT). Should you test positive for COVID, having an oximeter to monitor your blood oxygenation could save you. If your oxygen level falls to 92, you must get to a hospital. Carry some 400-count Manuka honey lozenges to ease your symptoms.

Bon voyage and safe travels!