We are starting to venture out and take those long-awaited family road trips. When I think of road trips, all I can picture is the packed-down station wagon from the "National Lampoon's Family Vacation" movie. When my family and I hit the road, we are not too far off from that setup. Our car is completely packed; there is very little stretching room, and, yes, we always forget something even though we are way overpacked.
The older I get, the more likely I am to experience neck and/or back pain during these long hours in the car. Over the years of road tripping across this beautiful country, I've come up with a few tricks that help me avoid the "travel knots" in my body.
I'm usually the passenger, but most of these can be done when you hit the stoplight if you’re the driver.
Are long car rides bad for your back?
Long automobile trips can be difficult on your back, particularly if you already experience back pain. Long periods of time spent driving can cause stiffness, pain, and possibly even muscular spasms in the back muscles. Here are some important things to think about:
Comfort and Posture:
It's critical to maintain proper posture throughout the ride. Keep your chin pulled in so that your head rests straight on top of your spine. Sit up straight with your legs slightly higher than your hips. Sitting on anything, including your phone, wallet, or anything else, could cause spinal misalignment. To better support the contour of the inward curve in your lower back, use a small cushion or roll up a scarf and insert it between your lower back and the seat.
Moving around and stretching are important because prolonged sitting in a car can make your back muscles stiff and sore. Ideally, you should stop for at least 15 minutes after every 2 hours of driving. If you frequently experience back pain, you might want to take breaks more frequently—every 30 to 60 minutes, for example. Take these opportunities to stretch out of the car. Movement increases blood flow, which enables your lower back to receive nutrients and oxygen.
On a lengthy road trip, many people find that using heat or cold therapy is an effective approach to reducing pain. Heat therapy can aid in boosting blood flow and relaxing the muscles, while cold therapy can aid in reducing edema and inflammation.
Proper Lifting Technique:
You'll probably be carrying luggage if you're taking a road trip. Back problems are frequently caused by improper lifting techniques. In order to prevent injury, it's important to lift weights properly and not too much. Keep your back straight and the thing you are lifting close to your body.
Consult a Professional:
If your back discomfort persists despite using the advice above, it may be wise to speak with a specialist, such as a physical therapist. They can evaluate the condition of your spine and address any issues or prospective issues before they worsen.
Keep in mind that this is general advice and may not apply to everyone. Before starting a long automobile trip, it is always important to speak with a healthcare provider if you suffer from persistent back pain or another medical problem.
See this post: 7 Tips to Alleviate Back Pain on Your Road Trips
What is the best posture for long car rides?
Keeping a decent posture while driving a long distance might help avoid back pain and discomfort. For optimal posture during long automobile travels, consider the following advice:
Adjust your seat so that you can comfortably and without strain reach the pedals, steering wheel, and controls. The height of your knees should be equal to or higher than that of your hips.
The seat should provide good support for your back. To support the organic curve of your lower back, use a cushion or lumbar roll. Some automobiles come equipped with adjustable lumbar support.
Maintain an erect, neutral position for your head. To prevent excessive up- or down-tilt, the headrest should support the center of your back.
Your shoulders should be at a comfortable angle against the back of the seat. Do not stoop forward.
Maintain a comfortable bending angle with your arms while holding the steering wheel. The 9 and 3 o'clock locations on the steering wheel are advised by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
To prevent stress from being transferred to your lower back, your feet should be positioned correctly on a stable surface. Your knees should be bent at a right angle.
How can I make my long rides more comfortable
Try these stretches from the video before your trip or during stops.
Try these tips while in the car at red lights if you are driving or anytime if you are the passenger.
When you start to feel uncomfortable, the first thing you want to do is do a Posture Check. Make sure you are equally weighted on both sitz bones, your shoulders are relaxed, your neck is long, and the back of your head is positioned on your headrest. You might want a professional, such as your physical therapist, to assess your posture while seated in your car seat. Most car seats are not designed with good body mechanics in mind. Once you feel you are in your ideal posture, check your mirrors. They probably need to be moved up. In the future, if you can't see out of your mirrors, you’re probably not sitting in your optimal upright posture.
If you still have discomfort in your back, you might need to have a small pillow or rolled-up towel handy. Try padding your low or mid-back to see if you can get any relief. I try to keep a small towel in my car just for this purpose. If you don't have a towel handy, you can use a book, purse, or even a water bottle.
Now that you've found your optimal upright posture, let's do a few stretches.
While keeping your gaze forward and your neck long, think of lifting one ear up to the ceiling. At the same time, keep both shoulders down. You should feel a stretch on that side of the neck. Hold this stretch for a minimum of two breath cycles. Repeat on the other side.
Drop your gaze towards your belly button and curl your chin towards your sternum. Think of rounding around the front of your neck instead of squishing it. Keeping this in mind helps you stay longer in the neck and prevents you from sinking your posture.
Place four fingers on your left clavicle. Gently pull the skin down and, at the same time, look away from your hand (right) and up. You can also move your jaw from side to side to feel an additional stretch. Repeat this on the other side.
Upper Back Stretch
Reach both arms straight in front of you as if you are going to reach out the front window. With your palms facing you, interlace your fingers. Exhale, round your upper back, and try to pull your hands apart by reaching your elbows wide. Flip your hands so your palms face away, and repeat.
Inhale, bend your elbows, and press them into your seat. Allow your scapulas to glide down your back and your gaze to float up. Widen your chest and keep the front and back of your neck long. Exhale and release the stretch. Inhale and repeat the stretch.
Lumbar Flexion and Extension
Feel your sitz bones on your seat. Inhale and reach your shin bones straight down into the seat. Exhale and curl your lumbar spine, reaching your sitz bones towards your knees. Inhale and return to the top of your sitz bones. Exhale, extend your lumbar spine, and reach your sitz bones away from your knees, keeping your belly and low back long.
Inhale and lengthen your spine, keeping your shoulders relaxed. Exhale, rotate, and look over your right shoulder. Be sure to stay heavy on your right shin bone. Inhale and return to your starting position. Exhale and rotate, looking over your left shoulder.
Hopefully, the next time you find yourself on a long road trip, these few stretches will help you stay loose and pain-free.
Stephen graduated with a Masters in Physical Therapy in 1998 from LSUMC in New Orleans and is a licensed physical therapist in Texas since 2004. Immediately interested in hands-on therapy, he began to study with Brian Mulligan and became certified in the Maitland Australian Approach in 2003. Stephen has since studied the fascial system through John F Barnes Myofascial Release. Stephen completed a comprehensive Pilates training in 2002 and the GYROTONIC Expansion System® in 2009. The combined treatment of manual therapy with mind-body awareness exercises using Pilates and Gyrotonic concepts was the start of his whole-body treatment approach.