Back Pain While Driving: 7 Simple Back-Saving Health Tips for Your Summer Road Trips by Dr. Gbolahan Okubadejo
In this post-pandemic world, people want to travel, however many do not want to travel abroad by plane wearing masks or have to take COVID tests or quarantine at their destination. Exponentially more people will be driving long distances in cars this summer. There are folks who might be driving cross country or down the northeast coast and spending in excess of 10 hours in a cramped car. Even for those who don’t normally have back pain, this type of situation can cause it.
- Get comfortable immediately. Take the time to make sure you're comfortable from the moment you set off on your trip. Discomfort at the beginning of your trip can turn into nagging pain later.
- Keep your back pockets empty. Sitting on your wallet, phone or anything else may throw your spine out of alignment.
- Mind your posture. Position your knees slightly higher than your hips, and keep your chin pulled in so that your head sits straight on top of your spine.
- Sit a comfortable distance from the steering wheel. Sit with your breastbone at least 10 inches from the steering wheel, and keeping your hands on the wheel at 9 and 3 (the sides rather than the top of the wheel). But don’t sit too far away either, which can cause you to reach too far for the wheel and places more stress on the lumbar spine, neck, shoulder and wrists.
- Shift in your seat periodically. When possible, try to move a little in your seat. Even 10 seconds of movement and stretching is preferable than sitting still. At a minimum adjust your seat and change your position slightly every 15 to 20 minutes. Pump your ankles to keep the blood flowing and provide a slight stretch in your hamstring muscles. Any movement that is safe to do in the car will help you alleviate back strain.
- Make your ride as smooth as possible. Bumps in the road can jar your spine and increase pain. For a smoother ride, consider replacing worn shocks to limit the bounce in the car, replacing worn tires to reduce vibration or shaking, and it on a car seat pillow or coccyx cushion to provide more padding between you and the road.
- Move yourself. Sitting in one position in a car will stiffen up your back muscles and can lead to achiness and possibly muscle spasms. Everyone should ideally take at least a 15-minute break for every two hours of driving. If you’re prone to back pain, you may want to take breaks more frequently, such as every 30 to 60 minutes.
What to Do If You're in Pain
- Cold therapy can help reduce inflammation and swelling. Consider bringing a cooler to store reusable ice packs or other cold therapy packs.
- Heat therapy can help increase blood flow and relax the muscles. Various types of heat therapy are available to buy, such as heat wraps or heat pads.
- Note about application: It is recommended to apply ice or heat for only 15 or 20 minutes at a time, then give your skin a rest to recover for at least a couple of hours before the next application.
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