There’s something about driving, isn’t there? The long roads, the beautiful landscapes, great music on the stereo, and back pain. Wait, what? Back pain? Yes, that’s right. While we all love taking long road trips with loved ones, or indulging in the much-needed down-time on our drive to the take out, driving can take an unanticipated physical toll. On that note, the festive season is upon us and it’s my guess that the gas tank is full and you’ve already packed your elf costume for a visit to grandma’s, right? Well, in that case, you best keep reading. I’m here to tell you all about why you get back pain when driving and what you can do to avoid it. Let’s jump straight in!
Maybe you’re wondering why you never really thought about driving as back pain being related. And that’s ok! It may not seem immediately obvious – in fact, it’s often the last place people think to look. Ironically, though, it’s probably the first culprit to turn to. Here’s why:
Sitting in a car seat can be tough on your back at the best of times, but being stuck in that position for long durations of time, or for many days consecutively, can wreak absolute havoc on your back muscles and spine. Not only is your mobility and general movement restricted, but your neck, shoulders, back, and hips, are forced into a largely unnatural position. The result? Pain… and at times, a lot of it.
Lack of Movement
As mentioned above, car rides restrict movement. I’m sure you’ve experienced the frustration of not being able to stretch your legs or arms as you’d like to, right? Well, it goes even deeper than that. Your muscles stay unnaturally still during long journeys, thereby causing them to spasm or, over long periods of time, become very inflexible. All of this can result in back pain, more spasms, and ultimately, a vicious cycle.
Not Stretching Ahead of the Drive
I don’t think you realized how important this is, did you? If you don’t stretch your muscles before you drive, the consequences can be far reaching: stiffness and pain at the end of the road, but looking further ahead, prolonged back issues if you’re not careful. Many, many people could avoid back pain if they just stretched prior to driving.
To be honest, the list can be exhaustive when it comes to back pain and driving, and really, the key to avoiding injury and discomfort is to prepare ahead of time. Nope, I don’t mean grabbing a Starbucks before hitting the highway, though that would be nice. I’m talking about making sure that the environment and your body are both ready for the journey ahead. Let’s see how you can do that…
Stretching Ahead of Time
You knew I was going to say this, didn’t you? Stretching ahead of your journey remains the single most important thing you can do to stave of back pain during and after your drive. Make sure you run through all the major muscles in your back, legs, shoulders, and neck – don’t skip through the stretches to avoid traffic! Give yourself enough time to really ease into the stretches – lengthen your muscles and prepare yourself for the relatively cramped car seat.
Take the Time to Adjust Your Seat… Even If You’re Switching Drivers Along the Way
Do you remember your driving test? Remember how meticulously you checked your mirrors, your seat, your seatbelt, and your neck rest? Well, why do anything differently when it comes to back pain? You have to make sure that your seat is adjusted properly: don’t lean too far forward or back, and make sure your feet are able to reach the pedals comfortably. If you drive an automatic vehicle, ensure that you aren’t crammed up against the dashboard, but are well within reach of the break. Make sure you are able to stretch your arms out ahead of you without straining, and give yourself enough lee-way to stretch your neck: check all mirrors accordingly. There is nothing more uncomfortable than having to drive scrunched up and being restricted.
And What About the Steering Wheel?
You didn’t think I would forget about the most important part of your posture-alignment did you? The steering wheel takes first prize when it comes to reducing back pain! Always take the time to adjust it in such a way that your back remains supported and you do not strain forward. Some cars may do this automatically, but if not, make sure you understand how to adjust the height and length of the steering wheel.
Work on Your Posture
It’s very easy to slip into a ‘sofa’ pose as your cruise down the road listening to the Beetles, but it is incredibly important to remain aware of your posture at all times. If you feel yourself slumping or leaning too far back into the seat, take a minute to re-adjust your posture. Your back will certainly thank you for it when you reach your destination!
Take Regular Breaks
If you needed an excuse to stop over for a coffee and a snack, then I’m happy to give you one. Taking regular breaks during longer journeys is essential when it comes to avoiding back pain. Once you park, make sure to get out of the car, stretch, rehydrate, and re-center your focus. Ensure that you’re aware of your posture and, if you’re in pain, make the necessary adjustments to your seat and mirrors.
If your car is equipped with cruise control, then you’re quite lucky! Cruise control enables you to take a break from one single seating position in order to shift into another. Be sure, though, that whichever position you choose is supportive of your back and ensures that your posture remains correct.
Here’s the thing… as much as we crave grandma’s homemade apple pies, long distance or continual driving can end our festive season before it even starts. Back pain related to driving is very much a present you don’t want to open. So, why not contact a professional, hands-on physical therapist to help you prevent it? Yes, that’s right, physical therapists can help you avoid back pain by showing you how to correct your posture, adjust your seats, and stretch properly. And not only that, physical therapy will help you eradicate back pain if you’re already suffering from it! By treating the root cause of the problem, physical therapy will help you maintain a pain free life while simultaneously equipping you with the tools to carry on your healthy journey at home!
So, really, the road to a pain free back is much shorter than you think. Don’t let long distance driving put a damper on your festive season – give us a call to find out we can get you back on the road safely and securely. Merry Christmas!