Whether you have a long drive to reach your holiday destination or a lengthy commute to work, if you suffer from back pain, driving for an extended period isn’t going to help your condition.
Unlike the sensation you get while slumped over in an office chair, your body feels a lot of different forces in a car, from accelerations, side-to-side swaying, and vibrations, according to Alan Hedge, Ph.D., C.P.E. professor of ergonomics at Cornell University.
Here are some things to keep in mind to make it less likely that you’ll cause further damage.
First and foremost, make sure you’re sitting comfortably. After all, you don’t want to be shuffling around in your seat within minutes of setting off. Empty your pockets! A wallet or mobile phone for example could make you sit awkwardly. As we discussed in our blog about protecting your back while at the office, make sure your lower back is supported. You can use a rolled up towel or purpose-made back support for this.
Keep your knees in line with or slightly lower than your hips when driving, if possible. Keep your chin pulled in so your head is in alignment with your spine. As your feet are working the car pedals, they can’t be used to stabilise your lower body as they would if you were sitting in a chair. Keep your left foot firmly on the floor (while not deploying the clutch!), and if you’re on cruise control, press both shoes into the ground so your thighs and shins form a 90 degree angle.
Get the distance right between yourself and the steering wheel: reaching too far can put stresses on the spine, neck and shoulder while sitting too close can mean you’re more at risk of injury should the airbag be deployed.
Keep cool! Consider travelling with an ice pack so it’s on hand should inflammation arise, but don’t forget to wrap it in a damp towel to protect from ice burn! You could carry them in a cool box or buy some instant ice packs to keep in the glove compartment.
Take a break! As ever, it’s important to avoid keeping your back in one position for a long time. If possible, take regular breaks from driving– as frequently as every half hour if that’s feasible – and get out of the car and walk around and stretch.
Here are some exercises you can try:
While driving (only when safe to do so!): Neck and shoulder stretches
- Look to the left and hold for a count of three
- Return to central position
- Look to the right and hold for a count of three
- Repeat 10 times
- Try not to compress the neck
When taking a break from driving: Side bends
- Start with your feet hip width apart, hands on hips
- Bend slowly to the left and then slowly to the right
- Do not tilt forward
- Repeat 10 times.
As ever, make sure your back is in alignment in the first place! Contact us for more information.
Have a good trip!