Lower back pain is very common and for many, driving long distances aggravates the problem. Cars are generally designed for the average person and of course we are all different. We are not designed to spend long periods of time sitting. Whilst driving we are not only doing that, but also using our feet which means we can’t support or stabilise our lower body as we do when sitting in a chair.
The following suggestions may help minimise back pain whilst driving.
- First and foremost, it is important to sit with the knees level or slightly higher than the hips, keep your chin pulled in so that your head sits straight on top of your spine.
- A rolled up towel or commercial back support placed between the lower back and the back of the seat can give more comfort and support to the natural curve of the lower back.
- Sit at a comfortable distance from the steering wheel. Reaching increases the pressure on the lumbar spine, neck, shoulder, and wrists, so sitting too far away can aggravate back pain. However, sitting too close can increase risk of injury from the car’s airbag.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drivers (and front-seat passengers) should buckle their seat belts and keep about 10 inches between the centre of the air bag cover and their breastbone to reduce the risk of air bag injury yet still be protected by the air bag in the event of a collision.
- Make sure your pockets are empty (Your wallet, mobile phone, or anything else in your back pocket may affect the alignment of your spine).
Get out and move around
- Your spine is designed to move. Sitting in one position in a car will stiffen up your back muscles so, if possible stop every 30 minutes—get out of the car, move around and stretch. Movement stimulates blood circulation, which brings nutrients and oxygen to your lower back.
Take along an ice pack and/or heat pad
- Applying a cold pack (not directly to the skin) can reduce the inflammation and pain that may accompany lower back pain. Similarly, warming up the lower back may alleviate pain on a long road trip so the use of a head pad or having the heated seats on (if your car has them) may also help.
While it seems obvious, it bears repeating that taking your mind off your pain can be surprisingly helpful. Trying a new music channel, downloading a podcast or listening to an audio book may be useful.
Hopefully some of the above tips will help you alleviate your back pain symptoms on long journeys.
A driving and back pain fact sheet is available at backcare.org.uk