Our backs are wonderfully designed, and very complex. They support us in an upright position, allowing us to sit and walk without pain. That is most of the time. There are situations, however, that can cause sever back pain, and airplane flight time is one of those situations.
This Is Your Pilot Speaking
Pilots and co-pilots often refer to severe back pain as an occupational hazard. Military pilots, especially those flying helicopters, are bothered by it regularly. Airplane flights with severe back pain are, in fact, an overwhelming problem for your pilot and co-pilot. While you have the luxury of getting up and moving around the cabin on a fairly frequent basis to relieve you back, your pilot and co-pilot spend most in-flight hours in their cockpit, experiencing increasingly severe back pain – especially in the lower back. Why is that? what causes such severe back pain in pilots?
- Prolonged sitting
- Ineffective seat padding
- Poor posture
- Constant vibration
- Stress – very high among pilots
- Use of navigational instruments, causing pilots to lean forward.
Passengers Also Experience Airplane Flights with Severe Back Pain
While pilots and other crew members develop severe back pain due to lengthy and frequent flights, passengers are not immune to the problem. They are not confined to a cockpit, but a number of factors contribute to severe back pain in passengers. Many are similar to those experienced by flight crew.
- Prolonged sitting – even though one may move about the cabin, it sometimes seems more trouble than it is worth to do so. There is always hope that no severe back pain will result.
- Poor posture – cramped quarters, especially in economy class, make it difficult to maintain both posture and comfort.
- Constant vibration – It is unclear how much vibrations influence flight back pain, but it is known that vibration can produce micro-trauma and disc damage in the back.
- Stress – even seasoned travelers experience a degree of stress during airplane flights. The lack of control over one’s environment is gone, and the body stresses until it returns to normal settings.
For the pilot, severe back pain can be distracting. He or she may compromise safety in an effort to deal with the pain. Concentration may be reduced, and flights delayed. Severe back pain can even lead to flight cancellations. Even young, otherwise healthy pilots, are susceptible to this problem. As a pilot gets older, the probability of suffering increases. Arthritis may become involved. Long flights may become impossible.
For passengers, severe back pain can greatly hinder activity once they reach their destinations. The stress and unnatural position assumed during the flight lead to fatigue. When that is coupled with the pain, it intensifies, creating even more severe back pain. If passengers have flown through several time zones, the effects will be more difficult to handle.
Treating Your Severe Back Pain
If you are a flight crew member, you should see your medical practitioner. You may need pain medication to provide immediate relief. Look into an ergonomic cushion to assist in better posture and provide support. Exercise between flights to loosen tired muscles.
If you are a passenger, seek the advice of a physician. Severe back pain can have causes other than those presented here. You will want to rule out underlying disease or injury. With your physician’s approval, exercise before and after flights. During flights, even if you’d rather not, get on your feet when permissible and walk around the plane. You may not be able to avoid the airplane flights, but you can avoid much of the severe back pain.