Popping down to the shops should be easy. Hitting the open road should be joyous. But for many of us, getting into the car can be a queasy, pain-inducing experience – something to dread rather than take for granted or enjoy. It does make sense, of course – whole-body, low-frequency vibrations, prolonged sitting, and constrained postures can put undue pressure on the spine. If you have been experiencing neck, shoulder or back pain while driving, read on for some ergonomic and behavioural tips to reduce or eliminate those car-trip back-pain blues.
1. Get comfortable to reduce lower back pain
And when we say get comfortable, we mean immediately. Don’t jump in the car, assume everything is good to go, and get going. Take a moment!
- Ensure your seat height is appropriate. Can your feet sit flat on the floor with your knees at a 90-degree angle? Is your steering wheel within comfortable reach? Can you see the road, your dash, and your mirrors without straining your neck?
- Speaking of mirrors, adjust them now while you’re sitting up straight – that way if you’re slumping on the drive, the reduced view in your mirrors will clue you to sit up with good posture.
- Adjust your lumbar support. Newer cars may have in-seat support that can be adjusted for depth and height. If you’re not getting quite the right support, a lumbar D-roll can be an excellent purchase to help maintain the neutral posture of your lower back, reducing lower back discomfort. A rolled-up towel can be a good short-term solution but beware the flattening effect of your body and invest in a longer-term solution if driving back pain is a problem.
- Keep your back pockets empty. No mobile phones, no wallets, no keys, no nothing. ‘Wallet sciatica’ is a real thing and sitting with one elevated hip – even if it’s only ever so slightly – for prolonged periods can cause postural pressure and resulting pain.
2. Move to reduce back pain while driving
Sitting still in the one position is not a natural state for the human body. We are designed to be moving. So even while you’re driving, remember to incorporate a little movement.
- Shift your position and move a little in your seat when possible. Pump your ankles to keep the blood flowing and provide a slight hamstring stretch. Squeeze your glutes – gently feel a tuck in your tailbone then squeeze and flex one bottom cheek at a time. Tuck your chin to your chest then slowly lift your head to press gently against the headrest. Remember, however, to keep your eyes on the road!
- Small movements while you’re driving are a good start, but stopping the car and getting out for some proper movement is far better. Aim for at least a 15-minute break for every two hours of driving – with more frequent breaks if you’re prone to back pain. Getting out of the car for some gentle movement is also important to prevent mental fatigue, making your journey safer as well as more comfortable.
Focus on your car, as well as your lower back
Those whole-body vibrations we mentioned earlier? They can be hell on your spine. But they can be reduced by ensuring your vehicle is in tip-top shape. Replace worn shock-absorbers to limit bounce in the car. Have your tires professionally balanced and replace worn tires to reduce vibration and shaking. And if you are upgrading, look for a car that gives you plenty of headroom, multiple ways to adjust the seat, headrest, and steering-column height, and opt for an automatic (as constantly adjusting the clutch in a manual puts undue pressure on the lumbar discs).
Manage lower back pain and contact a Northcote Chiropractor
It is quite common to experience back pain from driving, but it does not have to be a given. The general tips and suggestions above are first steps to try to minimise your discomfort. If you still feel pain or stress in your neck, shoulders, back or hips while driving, it could be the result of sitting incorrectly for an extended period. The good news is that chiropractic care can help alleviate these issues by correcting any misalignments caused by prolonged improper posture behind the wheel.
If you’re concerned about what driving has done, or is doing, to your back, make an appointment with Northcote Health and Wellness today. Bookings can be made via our simple online booking system, or give us a call if you have any questions.
📍108 High Street, Northcote
☎️ (03) 8899 6370