The Unwanted Passenger
Whether it’s work, errands, or vacation that’s getting you on the road, driving is a part of life. According to the American Automobile Association, the average American spends 17,600 minutes a year—the equivalent of seven fulltime weeks of work—behind the wheel.  That’s a lot of time, but it can feel like so much more if you’re suffering from low back pain. These problems only get worse if you’re going on a road trip.
In fact, sitting in the driver’s seat can be quite detrimental to the lumbar spine. If your positioning is unnatural—if it hinders your back’s natural s-curve—you see increased pressure on discs down there. If problems already exist, there’s good reason to believe that driving a lot can make them much worse.
Avoiding driving is, of course, either impossible or incredibly inconvenient, so what’s someone with lumbar pain to do? Here are five tips for avoiding low back pain while behind the wheel:
1. Emphasize Comfort
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to ensure that you’re comfortably seated. If you carry your wallet or other things in your back pockets, take them out. Since reaching or leaning forward can place extra stress on the low back, move your seat as far forward as you reasonably can. It’s also worth thinking about the positioning of your head, which should be vertical, not craning forward. Knees are best positioned slightly above your hips.
Another import aspect of comfort involves making sure your spine is well-supported by the back of the seat. What often helps—especially for those with sciatica—is adding extra cushioning behind your lower back. Look into specialized cushions for lumbar support, as this helps ensure healthy, s-curvature in the spine.
2. Take Breaks
Especially if you’ve got longer to go, taking stretch breaks can be very helpful in minimizing low back discomfort. Staying in one position for longer periods of time can cause your back to stiffen and inflame existing pain conditions. Not only that, a little movement helps stimulate essential blood flow. If possible, aim for a little break every 30 or so minutes.
You can also try to work a little extra motion in while actually driving. It’s a good idea, for instance, to pump your ankles to stretch hamstring muscles. In addition, slight adjustments to your seat position every 15 to 20 minutes can help.
3. Ensure a Smooth Ride
As anyone from back pain can tell you, a bumpy ride can be especially tough and painful. When you’re driving, try to make sure the ride is as smooth as possible. In addition to things like avoiding potholes, it’s a good idea to ensure your shocks are in good shape as these can absorb a great deal of impact. Similarly, do your best not to allow your tires to get too worn out as these also can help with bumps. Here, too, an extra pillow or specialized cushion to sit on will help minimize impact.
4. Bring Along Ice Packs
One of the most common sources of low back pain is inflammation. Icing the affected area is an excellent way to ease this while also numbing the area. When you’re travelling, pack a cooler with a couple icepacks to use should problems arise. Pharmacies also sell instant icepacks, which can be stored anywhere. The sooner you’re able to apply this to an ailing back, the easier the ride will be.
5. Think About Foot Position
Good back support starts from the floor up, so how your feet are positioned can make a huge difference. Basically, you want to ensure that there’s a right angle at your knees with your feet comfortably planted. If you can, adjust the height of the seat to make sure this is the case. Some drivers find they’re helped by using foot-rests. Furthermore, if you have cruise control on your car, you can engage it for stretches, allowing you to place your feet firmly on the floor.
Destination: Pain Free
One of the most difficult things about low back pain is that it can dampen or ruin your day when it flares up. Instead of enjoying that park or the company of friends—much less having a productive day at work—you’re stuck coping with discomfort. And while the above tips can help you prevent or manage it while on the road, you should make every effort you can to get the treatment you need. Whether you’re a road warrior or an everyday commuter, you can’t let back pain be a roadblock.
If you’re struggling with back pain, Dr Badlani and The Orthopedic Sports Clinic can help. Employing the latest in minimally-invasive treatments and techniques, these doctors have helped countless people find effective relief from spine problems. Learn more by calling (713) 464-0077.
"Americans Spend An Average Of 17,600 Minutes Driving Each Year | AAA Newsroom". 2016. AAA Newsroom. Accessed June 25 2018.