7 Tips to Prevent Back Pain While Driving

Sitting in a Car for Extended Periods of Time Can Worsen Your Back Pain

Back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability. Experts estimate that nearly 80% of all adults will experience lower back pain at least once in their lives. This pain can occur for a host of reasons, from traumatic injuries to degenerative diseases. Many activities can exacerbate this pain, as well, such as lifting heavy objects, poor posture, and more. Many people often experience worse back pain while driving.

Whether it’s hitting the road for a family vacation or taking off for a weekend getaway, road trips are often fun and exciting. However, for those living with back pain, these trips are uncomfortable and even unbearable at times. Sitting in a car for extended periods can be taxing on someone living with back pain.

A study published in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health revealed that those who experience whole-body vibrations (such as those experienced while driving) have twice the risk of experiencing low back pain and sciatica than those who don’t.

If you are just a passenger, you can easily find a position that eases this pain or even take pain medication to find pain relief. However, if you’re behind the wheel, these options aren’t safe. Fortunately, there are other options to help prevent back pain while driving.

Back pain (or chronic pain of any kind, for that matter) can be debilitating. The pain management doctors at Texas Partners Healthcare Group understand how chronic pain can impact your life, which is why we remain committed to helping our patients find pain relief. If you suffer from any form of chronic pain, give our Frisco pain management clinic a call today.

1.) Empty Your Pockets  

While this tip may seem inconsequential, it has more of an effect than you might realize. When you keep things in your back pockets (whether your wallet, phone, a pack of gum, etc.), sitting on them throws your spine out of alignment. Even if your wallet is thin or there isn’t much of a difference between the objects in your pockets, the slightest difference can mess up this alignment, which leads to back pain.

2.) Keep Good Posture 

It can be easy to have poor posture when driving for long periods. Your body naturally relaxes, and you might start to slouch. However, this will only exacerbate your pain. Keeping your back pockets empty is one step to take to ensure your good posture, but there’s more.

Sit up straight, keeping your knees bent and no higher than your hips. Keep your back aligned with your seat. You can also place a small pillow or a rolled-up towel between you and your seat to support the natural curve in your lower back. There are even special pillows and cushions designed specifically for lumbar support. Also, keep your chin slightly pulled in to ensure your head sits on top of your spine. If it protrudes forward, it can cause neck and upper back pain.

3.) Adjust Your Seat

Adjusting your seat will also help you keep good posture and limit back pain while driving. Everyone is different, so you will need to find a position that works best for you. Sit relatively close to your steering wheel but not too close. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSA) advises keeping at least 10 inches between the steering wheel and your breastbone for optimal safety. Sit close enough so that you do not have to reach, which can put stress on your lumbar, neck, shoulders, and wrists.

Sitting close means you won’t have to strain to reach the pedals either. Also, adjust your seat so that it is at an angle between 100-110 degrees. Your headrest should also be in the middle of your head. It will keep your neck and the back of your head in a comfortable neutral position that ensures correct posture.

4.) Take Breaks

Staying in one position for too long can cause the muscles in your back to tighten up, which leads to achiness and muscle spasms. If you are taking a quick trip driving across town or only plan on driving for around an hour, you should be fine. But if you plan on driving for several hours, you need to take breaks regularly.

Ideally, take at least a 15-minute break for every two hours of driving. For those who experience back pain more often and more severely, you might need to take breaks more frequently, such as between 30 to 60 minutes. When you take these breaks, do some light stretching to loosen up the muscles in your back.

5.) Adjust Your Steering Wheel Grip

While it might seem minor, how you grip your steering can affect your posture. For years, experts recommended holding your steering wheel at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. However, with the prevalence of airbags, recent studies have discovered that the best place to put your hands is at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock. Gripping your steering wheel in this position allows your elbows to rest comfortably on armrests, relieving pain throughout your back.

6.) Use Your Feet to Support Your Back

Your feet play an integral part in your posture. They are the foundation when it comes to supporting your spine. Placing your feet on a firm surface and at the right height and position relieves the stress placed on your lower back. When driving, keep your knees at a right angle. If your seat is too high and you can’t lower it, consider using a footrest.

Also, if your car has cruise control, use it during long drives. Cruise control allows you to place both your feet flat on the floor for brief moments, allowing you to distribute your weight evenly.

7.) Apply Heat and Cold Therapy 

Both the heat and cold can help relieve chronic pain. Many people find that utilizing heat or cold therapy during long drives can make them more comfortable and provide pain relief. If you suffer from chronic back pain, considering using these treatments:

  • Cold Therapy: The cold slows blood flow, which reduces inflammation and swelling. If possible, bring a small cooler to store ice packs or other cold therapy items.
  • Heat Therapy: The heat improves circulation, which increases blood flow, eliminating lactic acid waste buildup. It soothes pain and relieves tension in tight muscles. You can apply heat wraps or heating pads. Some cars even come with heated seats.

Only apply either of these for short periods, ranging from 15 to 20 minutes. If you are the driver, use these treatments when you’re taking a break.

Contact TXP

Chronic pain of any kind can be debilitating, with lower back pain affecting more people than any other form. This pain can impact every aspect of your life. Regular, everyday activities become challenging, such as putting on clothes, sleeping, and even driving. Sitting in a car for long periods can exacerbate this pain. However, there are many things you can do to prevent or relieve back pain while driving.

If you suffer from back pain or another chronic pain condition, our team of pain management doctors will work closely with you to develop a personal treatment plan for you. Give Texas Partners Healthcare Group a call today.