Straighten up and fly right

BackJoy’s SitSmart Posture Plus Seat

By Karen Campbell Globe correspondent 

As airlines continue to make economy seats smaller and smaller, with less leg room in between rows, flying has become a real pain – literally. After hours of sitting squished into a tiny space, backs slumped and shoulders curled inward to avoid offensive-elbow syndrome, many travelers emerge from their flights in need of chiropractic adjustment, or at least a long hot bath and some ibuprofen.

Sometimes, we just need a little support, and a number of easily portable products can help counteract the dastardly curved bucket seat of most airplanes, which force the back into an unhealthy C-curve with the head pitched forward. (All products transition easily to regular chairs — i.e., waiting areas — as well!) Basic lumbar cushions behind the back help nudge the pelvis into the slight forward tilt that stacks the vertebrae in the healthy S-curve alignment. But one clever new product called BetterBack (, $59) is even more portable. It’s a nifty back pad connected to straps that go around the knees to not only provide lumbar support but also stabilize the pelvis. It’s surprisingly comfortable and the edges zip into a handy pouch for traveling. Cambridge physical therapist Melissa Buffer-Trenouth said one of the patients in her practice brought it in to show the clinicians. “We all kind of liked it for different reasons,” she says. “I found that it does force you to have good sitting posture but you’re able to feel the muscles release. It’s really kind of cool.”


Another approach works from the bottom up, from the tried-and-true sloped coccyx cushion (like Clever Yellow’s Driving Comfort Cushion, which comes with it’s own backpack,, $59) to more innovative designs like BackJoy’s lightweight molded SitSmart (, $39.99), which cups the gluteus muscles to support the back in a natural posture. Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, author of “Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery,” takes one with her any time she expects to sit for long in a bad chair. “It works great for me,” she attests. “It basically it raises your butt slightly above your thighs and means your pelvis doesn’t slump backwards, and it puts less strain on your lower back.” She says her bright orange SitSmart attracts lots of attention in airports.

Taking it a step further, the inflatable wobble seat cushion, like Bintiva’s Air Balance Disc (, $14.99) not only enables better posture, it actually encourages subtle movements as you sit, keeping you loose and limber, rather than locked into an uncomfortable position. You can actually burn calories working on muscle tone and core stability while you wait for the snack cart to come around.

Lots of choices. There’s really no reason not to be sitting pretty — and comfortable — on your next flight.

Karen Campbell can be reached at