Essential steps for avoiding holiday back pain

Every January and February we see a spike in people needing treatment for back pain which occurred on holidays. Holidays are a danger time for backs, when people either develop a new issue or exacerbate an existing one. Most ‘holiday back pain’ issues stem from either sleeping in different beds or over-exercising.

If there was a golden rule for reducing holiday back pain, it would be: Stay Mobile.

Staying mobile is the single most important thing for beating back pain – even when you feel seized up. Understandably, when people feel their backs tightening up and becoming painful, they may unconsciously decrease their mobility by sitting or lying down for longer periods of time. Unfortunately, this is the worst thing for your back pain.

When your back is stiff and sore, it’s more important to up your mobility – even for those in chronic pain, making small movements often is a good rule to follow. Any small movements within tolerable levels of pain will gradually help you. Make sure you’re getting up at least once an hour. Ensure you do some walking and generally maintain a good degree of mobility.

Spending a few nights – or weeks – in a different bed may lead to issues around low back pain, upper spinal discomfort, neck strains and even headaches. But while you may have little choice than to sleep in an uncomfortable bed, there are some things you can do:

  • Taking your own pillow, if possible, makes a big difference. A lot of the problems to do with sleeping in a new bed stems from pillows you aren’t used to.
  • Consider using an extra pillow, placing it either between or under your knees while sleeping – this helps many back pain sufferers.

As per the mobility golden rule, do some light stretching exercises a few times a day.

Engage in deep breathing during those moments when you are in pain. Deep breathing also combats stress – it’s natural to worry about your back pain while it is happening, but it only makes matters worse.

The other great contributor to holiday back pain is overdoing the exercise – New Year’s resolutions are in overdrive and there are more opportunities to play in the surf and sun.

The key for avoiding problems from over-exercise is the 20% rule: the body responds to gradual change. If you double or triple your exercise regime overnight, there is a risk you could break down.

I recommend only 20 per cent extra exercise on what your body is used to.

Remember too, some exercises are harder than others. Most people underestimate how hard running or walking on the beach can be on their bodies. Running barefoot is a big issue, and we see people every year who have taken it too far and become injured due to lack of footwear support.

What if you still pick up an injury after being mobile and sticking with the 20% rule? Back pain is complex and may signal an issue in the body elsewhere, which hasn’t been picked up.

The last thing you want is holiday back pain to become permanent back pain. If you are in discomfort consider getting treatment – but expect results. If you don’t feel a difference in three sessions or fewer you may need a second opinion.


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