Proper Airplane Sitting

As a physical therapist in Hawaii, I’ve seen several patient come back from vacation with increased low back and neck pain after a long and uncomfortable airplane ride to return home.  Airplane seats may differ between airlines, but across the board, you will often see a lack of cervical and lumbar support for passengers to sit comfortably for hours, especially for passengers who already have neck or low back pain to begin with.  Proper sitting posture is ultimately the same whether you are in a car, at a desk or on an airplane.  What makes it “proper” is the ability to achieve and maintain neutral spine. As depicted below, sitting with a slouched posture results in a “C” shaped spine, while sitting upright with proper posture maintains a neutral “S” shaped spine.   Listed below are a few ways you can alter your surroundings to improve “airplane” sitting posture to maximize comfort and prevent subsequent neck or low back pain and stiffness after a long plane ride.        

  1. Used a roll towel or sweater as a lumbar support.  Place the rolled towel or sweater between the back of the seat and your low back, horizontally along your waist band.


  1. Take a cervical pillow on board with you to better support your head while you are sitting. This pillow will save your neck from pain and stiffness especially if you intend to fall asleep on the airplane.  It will help keep your head and neck in a more neutral position versus falling forward or to the side while you sleep.

  1. If you have one available and if it fits, use your carry-on luggage as a foot stool. This applies to shorter passengers whose feet fail to meet the floor and dangle when pushing their hips properly against the back rest of their seat.  You can use a backpack or a small duffel bag for this.   Having your feet supported will prevent your body from sliding down the chair, which will eventually cause your low back to hyperextend or arch.


  1. Finally, many of you already do this: recline your seat! Bringing your seat back will position your trunk and spine at an angle, decreasing the downward pressure of your body weight and gravity on your spine. Instead, this reclined position allows you to support your body weight into the back rest instead.

Here at Oahu Spine & Rehab we have patients that travel to the mainland every week. Going from Hawaii to the mainland is at LEAST a five hour flight, and for someone with chronic pain, that can cause more pain. Using proper posture procedures while on a long flight can save you from a trip full of back pain. If you are suffering from chronic back pain, give us a call in Kailua today at 488-5555!

Call today 488-5555!

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