21 Ergonomic Tips for Traveling Web Workers

Those of us who work remotely often do more traveling than the average worker, and working on the road may leave us more susceptible to strains and injuries than our office-bound colleagues. During my recent conversation with licensed massage therapist Wimsey Cherrington about ways to avoid repetitive strain injuries at work, she also suggested several tips for avoiding strains while traveling.

Luggage Handling

Many injuries are caused by improper handling of luggage. Of course, wheeled luggage is a must these days, but there are times when you must pick up your bags. You can reduce the possibility of strains by avoiding twisting motions while lifting bags.

  • Keep it light. We all know how tempting it can be to want to take the laptop, the tablet, the smartphone, the camera, the MP3 player, and all the paraphernalia that goes with them. But the heavier the bag, the more likely you’ll be to strain yourself while lifting it. (And you’ll pay more to the airlines in luggage fees!)
  • Avoid unbalanced bags. Many pieces of luggage have lots of pockets and compartments, which is great for stowing lots of gear, but pack carefully. Top- or front-heavy bags can compound the potential for strain.
  • Bend your knees. When you pick up a bag, brace yourself by bending at the knees. Don’t let your back do the work.
  • Lift carry-ons carefully. When putting a carry-on bag in the overhead compartment of planes or trains, face the aisle, lift the bag close to your body, then move your whole body through a 90-degree turn to face the overhead compartment, and put the bag in the compartment.
  • Avoid twisting while lifting checked bags: Similarly, when putting checked bags on the scales at an airport ticket counter, lift the bag while keeping it close to your body, then turn your entire body and place the bag on the scale.
  • Be careful at baggage carousels: It can be crowded at baggage carousels, but don’t rush. Wait to pick up your bag until it is directly in front of you, pulling it off the carousel straight toward you. Hold the bag close, then turn your entire body and put the bag on the ground.

Neck Support

It’s important to support your neck while traveling, since your body responds to even imperceptible bumps by continually keeping your eyes level with the horizon. These involuntary adjustments can cause neck and shoulder strains.

  • Wear a pillow. An inflatable, horseshoe-shaped pillow similar to this one will help support your neck. Wear it at all times while traveling, even when using a laptop and while sleeping.

Back Support

Most seats in planes and trains don’t provide lumbar support for your lower back, and the seats aren’t set in the optimal position, which is flat or slightly higher in the back.

  • Use a travel seat with lumbar support. Frequent travelers might want to invest in a travel seat, like this one.
  • Make your own travel seat. If you want to save money, or if you only travel occasionally, you can make your own lower back support by folding a heavy wool scarf or muffler and placing it behind your lower back and folding your jacket to fill in the seat.


Even in the close confines of an airplane or train seat, there are several exercises you can do to keep yourself relaxed. These are also good for long meetings and conferences:

  • Ankle circles. Point your toes out, raise one foot and rotate your foot in a circular motion for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other foot.
  • Foot pumps. Point toes of both feet out, then back — repeat for 30 seconds or until muscles or tired, whichever happens first.
  • Foot lifts. Keep your heels on the floor and lift the front of your feet as high as you can. Return feet to relaxed position on the floor. Repeat for 30 seconds.
  • Heel lifts. Keep the balls of your feet on the floor and lift your heels as high as you can. Return feet to relaxed position on the floor. Repeat for 30 seconds.
  • Leg “march.” While staying in your seat, contract your thigh muscles and move your legs as though marching in place for 30 seconds.
  • Leg raises. While staying in your seat, with your hands on the armrests, slowly lift both legs, keeping your knees bent. Hold for 3-5 seconds. Repeat 8-10 times.
  • Torso/back arch. Slowly move your shoulders forward while arching your upper body backward. Reverse the movement, slowly moving your shoulders backward while arching your upper body forward. Repeat a few times.
  • Shoulder circles. Gently bring your shoulders up and around, as though drawing a circle with your scapulae (shoulder blades), also known as “angel wings.” At the end of the circle, let your shoulders drop. Repeat 4-5 times.
  • Relax your back. Once you’re off the plane, you can relax stiff and tight muscles with a device like the Backnobber, which is easy to use, light and comes apart for storage in your luggage.

Final Thoughts

  • Try not to work all the time. Just because it’s possible to get internet connections in airplanes and trains doesn’t mean that you have to use them! Working while traveling should be a last resort. Use plane or train time to catch up on sleep if you can!
  • Reset your body clock. When you get to your destination, and when you get home, you may need to adjust your body’s rhythms. Celine has some great suggestions on how to get back on schedule.
  • See a professional when you get home. If you know that you’ll be unable to avoid stressing yourself on a trip, make an appointment with a health professional before you leave. I find that a good massage therapy session can really help ease the stress of business travel.

How do you avoid strains while traveling?
Image courtesy Flickr user Noël Zia Lee