Theme park rides and attractions vary wildly. Rough roller coasters, smooth people movers, lap bars, chest restraints, and various other contraptions can all be seen in a single park. Some of these rides can cause increases in neck and back pain.
Knowing what to expect for each ride and incorporating techniques to prevent and decrease the pain you may experience will greatly increase your chances of having the most fun on your theme park adventure. Keeping it simple, there are two basic types of rides: Smooth and rough. Rough rides include most roller coasters, especially ones that go upside down or have sudden increases or decreases in speed. Some examples include the Velocicoaster in Universal Studios, Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain in Magic Kingdom, and Dinosaur and Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom. These rides can aggravate neck and lower back symptoms when the main issue is instability. Whiplash injuries, herniated discs, and general instabilities in these areas are very likely to be aggravated by these rides. Luckily, there are several techniques we can utilize to decrease the chances of increasing neck and back pain on these rides. There are 3 things you can do to prevent and decrease neck and back pain on rougher rides. The first is a chin tuck, which you should use on rougher rides that take sharper turns or have sudden stops. If you’ve ever been in line, listening to the instructions for how to sit during the ride, you may notice one of the instructions is to keep the back of your head against the headrest. This is very good cuing to engage the deeper neck flexors that stabilize your neck. Practice this at home by standing with your back against a wall and pressing the back of your head into the wall. You will feel some muscles deep in your neck activate. These muscles will stabilize your neck, especially when rides take sharp turns and sudden stop Second, on all rougher rides, use handholds whenever possible. Stabilizing yourself by holding on to either the lap bar, chest restraint, or other bar in front of you will make it so your torso does no flail around during sharp turns and sudden stops. When possible, use handholds that allow you to keep the back of your head pressed into the head rest. Lastly, getting some abdominal activation on rougher rides with only a lap bar will improve your lumbar stability. Similar to the chin tucks, we are going to use a pelvic tilt to help us get some core stability. While you are on the ride, simply press your lower back into the back rest. You will feel the muscles in your lower abdomen activate. This will give your back some stability, so if you have issues with back instability or herniated discs, this exercise should help decrease or prevent these symptoms from being aggravated on these rougher rides with only a lap bar. To practice this, similar to the chin tucks, simply sit in a chair with a back rest and try to press your lower back into the back rest, you will feel your lower abdominals contract. Use these tips to keep your neck and back healthy and pain free, and enjoy your overall theme park experience. Because Pain Is Not Magical.