Whether you’re behind the wheel or in the passenger seat, we all spend a large amount of time in a car. It is often filled with fun, laughter or the all too often “are we there yet?”. However, when you have back pain, time spent in a car can often ‘drive’ you mad.
Back pain is one of the most common health problems in the world. In 2011, The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that back pain was the third largest cause of disease burden in Australia, while in 2014-2015, 1 in 6 Australians reported they had back problems. We spend on average 87 minutes a day in a car, which is a a lot of time a person can be in pain and discomfort.
Why do you get back pain when driving?
The position of the spine in sitting subjects it to greater forces than standing. This is amplified when driving as the body is exposed to additional forces like vibrations, lateral sway, acceleration and deceleration. Furthermore, driving also requires the active use of your feet to operate the pedals, which don’t allow them to be firmly planted on the ground for stability. A combination of these factors plus incorrect seating position and poor seat design can result in back pain. Click here for more information about why general sitting is bad for your back.
11 Super Tips to Manage Back Pain While Driving
1. Adjust your back rest
Sit all the way back in the seat and adjust the back rest to 100-110 degrees to allow for full contact of your back to the seat.
2. Slide the seat
Move the seat forward and backwards to set the distance between the seat and the pedals. Your knees should have a slight bend when fully depressing the clutch or pushing hard on the brake pedal.
3. Adjust the steering wheel
Move the steering wheel in and out and up and down. You should be able to rest your wrists on top of the steering wheel with a slight elbow bend and without your shoulders or back leaving the seat.
4. Adjust the headrest
Position the headrest where the middle of the cushion meets the middle of the back of your head.
5. Adjust the mirrors
Adjust both mirrors while in the correct seating position so that you can easily see them by only moving your eyes. They can also act as a reminder for good driving posture, forcing you to sit up straight if you can’t to see them when slouching.
6. Additional lumbar support
Use a cushion, rolled up towel or purchase a car seat lumbar support cushion to place behind your lower back. Car seats often have a poor design and have insufficient lumbar support to suit the natural curve of your back. (Lumbar support is available for purchase at our clinics, call or email to make an enquiry).
7. Empty your back pockets empty
Do not keep a wallet or phone in the back pocket of your pants. This can tilt one side of the pelvis and therefore cause a misalignment of the spine. It may not be noticeable at first, but over time and during long drives it can cause or worsen your back pain.
8. Cushion your seat
This reduces the amount of vibrations and jolts transmitted to the seat. This can be done by using a car seat specific cushion to act as a shock absorber. Additionally, maintaining and servicing your car, especially the suspension and tyres will ensure for a more comfortable drive.
9. Keep your back warm
Take a heat pack with you by simply wrapping it in a towel and placing it behind you to provide some added relief for the road. These days, most modern cars are equipped with heated seats, so utilise them to keep the blood flowing and joints and muscles relaxed.
10. Use cruise control
When appropriate use your cars cruise control, this will allow you to place your feet flat on the floor and position your knees at 90 degrees. Gently push them into the floor to help stabilise and support your back.
11. Take regular breaks
It is always advised to take a break every 2 hours. This not only helps keep your back moving but also reduces fatigue and improves concentration levels.
The Best Exercises for Back Pain: Before and After you Drive
1. Side pull
If you’re stretching out and getting your whole body moving, I usually like to approach it in a systematic way by starting at the head. The first stretch is called a Side Pull. This stretch focuses on lengthening the upper trapezius muscle on either side of your neck and on top of your shoulders. These are rather large muscles and can often get tight with poor posture and positions sustained for a long period of time.
Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Make sure you are sitting nice and tall. You can either hold onto the seat or sit on your hand on the side you want to stretch. Gently tuck your chin to your chest and tilt your head to bring your ear towards your shoulder. Its important that you maintain looking forward throughout the stretch. If you’d like to increase the intensity, place your hand on the side of your head and gently pull your head towards your shoulder. Do 2 lots of 30-45 seconds for each side.
2. Thoracic rotations
The next exercise is a simple yet effective stretch for regaining mobility and loosening off the thoracic spine. This can be done straight after the Side Pull stretch as they both only require a seat.
Sit nice and tall with your feet flat on the floor and knees close together. Then cross your arms across your chest and simply rotate your torso left to right. Try to rotate as far as your can with each repetition. Doing 10 repetitions in each direction is sufficient for this exercise.
3. Roll downs
As we make our way down, we get to the third and final stretch. The Roll Down targets the entire spine but primarily to get the lower back or lumbar spine moving. This is also a great stretch to lengthen the hamstring muscles as well.
Standing nice and tall with your feet positioned hip-width apart. Bend both knees slightly and relax your shoulder with your hands hanging in front of you.
Tuck your chin to your chest and start bending forwards. Imagine your spine as a chain and you’re moving each link forward from the base of your skull to the bottom of your spine.
Once you reach the bottom, hold for 5 seconds and slowly bring each link of the chain back up as you come back to standing. Complete 5 repetitions of this exercise.
A lot of people often don’t realise the effects driving has on their back and might have tried various approaches to resolve your back pain but have never consider changing the way they sit in a car.
These tips and exercises may be the turning point for your back, so go out to the car, grab a seat and start working your way through the 11 tips.
It may also be handy to print out this article and leave it in the glove box, ready for your next road trip. For more information about managing back pain, visit “Beat Back Pain with Some Simple Tips” or “Learn How You Can Manage Your Chronic Pain!“.