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How to Prevent Back Pain on Your Next Road Trip

As you all embark on your summer road trips, remember that driving for long periods of time can cause back pain or aggravate an already-existing back problem. Here are some tips to keep you cruising along with minimal discomfort.

Check your posture.

The lumbar curve in the spine, consisting of five vertebrae in the lower back, naturally curves toward the stomach. However, the curve tends to straighten out when driving for a long time, due to incorrect posture. This puts excess pressure on the discs, which, combined with the vibration of the vehicle’s suspension, can cause back pain.

Try not to lean into the wheel when driving. Rest your back against the seat, adjusting the seat if needed to make it easier to reach the steering wheel without having to lean forward. Use a lumbar support pillow or roll up a towel to support your lower back. Keep your knees slightly higher than your hips, and try not to stay in the same position for too long to avoid stiffness.

Adjust your seat and rear-view mirror.

Make sure you aren’t leaning back too much, as that could make you strain to reach the pedals and the steering wheel. Try to get as close to the wheel as you can, without making yourself uncomfortable. Adjust your rear-view mirror so that you get the best view when your posture is correct. If you feel the need to adjust while driving, that is an indicator that you are slouching, and you should correct your posture, not the mirror.

Don’t keep anything in your back pockets.

Remove your wallet, cell phone, and everything else from your back pockets. Sitting with items stored in your back pockets throws the spine out of alignment, which can trigger chronic back pain. If you make it a habit, you may eventually compress the sciatic nerve, which runs along each side of the spine and down the backs of the thighs, all the way to the feet. This can lead to a condition called sciatica, which causes leg pain and numbness.

Stop often to stretch and walk around.

If you’re on a long road trip, it’s a good idea to stop at a rest stop at least every couple of hours. Walk around for a bit to increase your circulation, and stretch out. Be sure to stretch the hamstrings and back. Back exercises get the circulation going, distributing the nutrients in the blood to the structures in the back, which helps to prevent stiffness.

For long trips, split up the driving duties.

If possible, try to divide up the driving time with a travel companion for trips that are very long. This gives everyone a chance to take a break from driving and rest. If your back is hurting, you can try to lie down in the back seat if it is available.

Use your car’s amenities to your advantage.

If your car has heated seats, be sure to activate that feature when back pain sets in. Heat can help to relax muscle spasms. If your car doesn’t have heated seats built-in, you can purchase a heated seat cover for the drivers’ seat. Also, try to use the cruise control feature whenever possible. This allows you to even out the placement of your feet for short periods of time so that your weight is distributed more evenly.

Follow these tips, and you will find that your driving experience is much more enjoyable.