Driving Tips to Prevent Back Aches and Pains

By Victoria Luddy

Plan on taking a road trip this summer? Road trips are a ton of fun, but driving long distances can be difficult on our bodies, especially when the standard comforts of a car may not be suitable to all bodies. 

For some, the car may be the work station of their job, just as a desk is to an office worker; therefore, it is important to think about the ergonomics of driving to prevent injuries or identify a potential source of injury whether its a summer road trip or if driving is part of your occupation. 

Here are a few driving tips to prevent aches and pains: 

Personally I like to start from the hips and lower back region to set the spine into a neutral position. Look at your seat to see how your back is positioned. Avoid sitting too deep into a chair. Deep sitting may create a problematic, rounded “C” curve from neck to low back. There should be natural curves in the spine. A lumbar pillow or simply rolling a towel and placing it behind your low back is a good way to start creating a neutral spine position. 

Also, remove all items from your pockets that may put pressure on nerves, including wallet, keys, etc. In addition, sitting too deep with poor posture can tighten up the hip flexors in the front of the hips. Try to sit with the knees at the level of the hips or slightly below hip level. 

Now check your head rest. Neutral spine position for the neck is positioning your head so the ear canal is in line with the shoulder. It is easy to fall into a forward head posture, where our head and neck seems to be outstretched in front of our body. Adjust the head rest position to prevent it from pitching your head forward, think neutral spine!

Next the shoulders play a role with neck positioning. Placing your hands too high on the wheel may put repetitive stress on the shoulder causing impingement. Avoid shrugging your shoulders up by your ears and rounding them forward. It places undue stress on the neck with the constant tension from your upper neck muscles.

A creative way to keep your posture in check is to use landmarks as cues to remember to check posture, such as traffic lights, stop signs etc. If you are the passenger and plan to pass time with some reading or use of electronics avoid looking down and putting a strain on the neck muscles. Instead bring an extra pillow to place in your lap in order to prop up your elbow to keep any books or hand held devices at eye level.

Not only is positioning important, but so is movement! Our bodies are meant to move. Typically, I like to tell clients to move from a sitting position every 30-45 minutes; however that is a little unrealistic for a very long road trip. Long hours in the car can tighten up muscles. Be sure to take rest breaks to actively move the body and stretch. Here is a quick road trip routine to keep your body loose from head to toe:

• Neck circles: roll front back, side to side
• Shoulder squeezes: pinching shoulder blades together
• Arm circles with deep breathing: inhale and exhale while moving arms in big circles Back bending: gently move trunk through rotation, side bending, and bend forwards and backwards
• Standing or seated marching in place: alternate picking up your knee left and right
• Hamstring stretch: bend forwards and touch toes or place foot on bottom of the door frame and bend forward with straight knee while back is straight
• Seated ankle pumps: move foot up and down to help increase blood circulation

Safe, healthy travels and enjoy your trip!!