Summer is finally here and, since flying is risky, you’re planning a family road trip! But… ouch, that means hours of driving – how can you prevent back pain and still enjoy vacation? If you’re excited about getting away but uncertain how your back will hold up after sitting in the car for hours this article is for you. We have some easy to follow suggestions to help you prevent back pain and enjoy your vacation. Before you hit the Road, take a few minutes to protect your back.
Step 1: Adjust Your Seat
Just like setting up your office chair correctly relative to your computer screen, there are some key ergonomic guidelines to follow when you set up your seat in the car.
No Slouching! – Be sure you’re seated with your buttocks as far back as possible so that your lower back is touching the back of the seat. Do not slouch – it is a recipe for low back pain.
Seat Height – You want your hips to be at or above the level of your knees. If you are a taller person driving a small car, you’ll want to be sure your upper body isn’t bent forward. If you are shorter, sometimes a cushion or wedge is necessary in order for you to safely see your dashboard and the road ahead.
Relaxed Arms – Adjust the seat close enough so that your knees are bent about 20-30 degrees. Recline your seat only 10-20 degrees so that your elbows are bent and your shoulders are relaxed as you hold the steering wheel (with hands at 10 and 2 – don’t forget!).
Headrest – Most cars are now equipped with adjustable headrests. The back of your head should be touching the headrest the majority of the time you’re driving. If it’s not, you need to tip the headrest forward. Even more important, the top of the headrest should be at the same level as the top of your head. The headrest should never be at the level of your neck – this can cause whiplash or severe neck injury in the event of an accident.
Step 2. Lumbar Support
Yes, lumbar support is part of your seat, but it’s so important it gets its own section!
Lumbar support is designed to promote the natural contour of your spine in the lower back. Many vehicles now are equipped with lumbar support for the driver seat. In some vehicles this is even adjustable with a lever to make the lumbar support larger or smaller. If your seat does not have lumbar support built in, or if you feel it’s not adequate, there are also many lumbar support devices you can add. This is especially useful if you’re travelling as a passenger.
Bigger is Not Better – When adjusting your lumbar support it should just fill the space between your lower back and your seat. If it exaggerates your natural spinal it can lead to back pain – exactly what you’re trying to avoid!
Towel Trick – If you don’t have built-in lumbar support or a cushion a hand towel will do the trick! Take the towel and roll it up so that it looks like a log or cylinder, then place the towel horizontally in the space between the lower back and your seat. You may have to adjust the height of the towel until you feel that it supports your lower back.
Step 3. Take Breaks and Stretch
Don’t be so focused on your destination that you don’t enjoy the journey! Being in too much of a rush to arrive can lead to back pain that lingers and makes your vacation less enjoyable. Resist the temptation to drive as far as you can on a tank of gas. Instead, plan to take a break every 2-3 hours. Sitting for long periods can shorten the hip flexor muscles such as the Iliopsoas. This key muscle can increase pressure and strain on the joints of your lumbar spine. It can also lead to an increase in the curvature of your lower back (which you’re more likely to notice if you have your lumbar support set up correctly!). After a long ride, consider doing a simple stretch for the hip flexors.
For your upper back and neck area, consider stretches for the chest. Find a corner in a room or a doorframe. Raise your arms above your head with your elbows bent to 90 degrees and your elbow at level of your shoulders. Lean forward until you feel a pulling / stretching in your upper chest. Hold this stretch for 30-60 seconds.
We hope these tips will keep you in avoid back pain during your summer holidays. Even if you follow all of these suggestions, you may still feel a bit stiff or sore after lots of driving or too much fun in the sun – our team is always here to get you feeling right again!
Follow these simple steps and you’ll prevent back pain AND have a healthy, enjoyable summer road trip!
If you want to make sure you’re in top shape either before or after your summer road trip, come and see us! A couple of sessions with Massage Therapist and Chiropractor will surely get you ready for your summer adventures.