Road Trip: Long Distance Driving and Your Spine

March 26, 2019

Driving and back pain
Kyleigh Roessner RN-BSN

Snacks. Gas. Music. Map or GPS. You have a lot to plan for when you are headed out on a road trip, but preparing for driving and back pain may not be one that you remember to add to your "To Do" list.

Think about it, if you're sitting for a long period of time, your muscles can get tight. If your spine isn't in correct alignment, you may be in a world of hurt by the time you reach your destination. So, before you buckle your seatbelt and head out to the open road, consider the following:

Get Comfortable

Adjust your seat so that your arms are a relaxed distance (around 10 inches) from the steering wheel. Make sure your feet are also in line with your hips, and your mirrors are correctly adjusted (at your eye line). According to the Spine Health Institute, you should have the base of your spine pressed against your seat, with the lumbar (lower back) curve supported. If you usually keep your wallet or other items in your back pocket, be sure to remove them or they can create a strain on your spine.

Take a Break

Many people wonder if there is a limit to how many hours they can safely drive. There isn't really a clear-cut number that dictates when a person should stop, get out and stretch for a few moments. Usually, the need to pull over for gas or use restroom facilities makes for regular breaks to stop and stretch the legs and spine. But, as you are driving, pay attention to your body. If you feel discomfort in your spine, stop and get out of the car for a few minutes. Or better yet, plan to make some stops in advance, and build them into your travel plans. Do some gentle stretching before you get back in. Alternate driving responsibilities with another capable adult if possible.

Spine-Health recommends that in between your driving breaks that you do small position changes in your seat approximately every 10-15 minutes, to keep the blood flowing through your spine and to your lower extremities.

Don't Forget Your Car

In addition to helpful advice about things you can do for your body to prevent back pain when driving, you can also make sure your car is in optimal condition for your spine health. That means making sure that your shocks are in good condition, and that your tires are inflated properly and have plenty of tread left. Before you leave for your road trip, you should check your oil, tire pressure and make sure that the seat is going to get you through to the end comfortably.

Gear Up

If your car isn't made to for sitting for long periods of time, cushions for your back and glutes, lumbar support or a foot rest for shorter drivers, can be used to keep your spine in alignment while you drive to your destination. Look for items that can support the lumbar and provide cushioning for the coccyx, the lowest bone on the spine.

Wherever you decide to go, remember to keep your spine health at the top of your list. Your spine needs to last through this road trip and through many more to come. Drive safely, and enjoy!

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