Is driving causing back pain? This is a common complaint, especially for those who have a long commute or who spend a lot of time in the car running errands or chauffeuring kids around. Although it may seem inevitable, you don’t have to suffer from lower back pain from driving.
Tips for Alleviating Lower Back Pain from Driving
There are a number of studies that have examined the relationship between back pain and driving. One study looked at lower back pain as a result of exposure to “whole-body vibrations.” Another pointed out that lumbar strains in the lower back may be a result of how automobile seats are built. Others illustrated the cause and effect of sitting in a car over long periods; It’s no surprise that they found a proven correlation between increased back pain and total riding or driving time.
So, what can you do to lower your risk and lessen the pain? A lot, actually.
1. Sit Correctly While Driving
The way you sit in the car has a huge impact on your comfort level and the amount of support you get. You want to make sure the way you’re sitting protects your back instead of putting pressure on your body.
Here are a few tips for maximum comfort and support while driving or riding in a car:
Sit at a 130- to 135-degree angle. This puts you in a slightly reclined position instead of being completely upright, and is largely thought to be the best biomechanical sitting position; It limits the strain on the spine and ligaments is minimal in comparison to other positions like sitting straight or slouching, or leaning forward. People who sit at 130-135 degrees have also been shown to have less pressure on the discs and the spinal muscles. This is especially true when using lumbar support.
Sit as close as you can safely and comfortably be from the steering wheel. This will help you keep from slouching or reaching and will help you to easily reach the pedals. Having your knees at a right angle and your feet at the right height will help you to keep from transferring stress to your lower back.
Put your hands on the steering wheel at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock. You were probably taught to grip your steering wheel at 10 and 2 positions, but experts have adjusted their recommendations because of airbags. Having your hands at 9 and 3 also makes it so you can rest your elbows on the car’s armrests, which can reduce the stress in your shoulders and upper back.
Stretch in your seat and change your position to reduce any back strain whenever safely possible. If you’re in the car for a long period of time, get out, stretch, and take a short walk every 30 to 60 minutes, or whenever you feel your back tightening up.
2. Use Your Car’s Technology
Technology is your friend when it comes to seat comfort. Once you’ve figured out the best seat position, set it using the memory seat function. That way if someone else drives your car, you don’t have to re-establish your preferred position.
Pay special attention to the aforementioned lumbar support. Lumbar support helps correct poor posture by bolstering your lower back. It also supports your back’s natural curve and the muscle groups attached to the spine: the flexors and the extensors.
If you don’t have lumbar support, you can approximate the benefit by placing a rolled-up towel in the small of your back.
Use cruise control whenever possible. This will give your legs—and your back—a break by increasing the amount of time during which you can have both feet on the floor.
3. Choose the Right Car for You
You may love that sporty convertible or rough-and-ready Jeep, but they might not love you back. Some cars naturally have a rougher or bouncier ride than others, and those types of cars create more vibrations.
Sports seats in a high-performance vehicle can be uncomfortable because of how the sides of the seats are shaped. Of course, a lower, sportier car might also be hard to get in and out of. If you have disc problems or a soft tissue injury, a smooth-riding car will provide more cushion and comfort.
4. Bring Reinforcements for the Drive
Sitting on a special car seat pillow or something called a coccyx cushion can give you a little extra padding to protect you against the jostling of the car. What you do NOT want to do is sit on your wallet or your phone. It may seem hard to think about how something as small as a wallet or cell phone can cause back pain, but that may be all it takes to throw off your spine alignment.
5. Try Cold or Hot Therapy Behind the Wheel
Depending on the type of back pain you’re experiencing, cold therapy may help alleviate it. Cold therapy is often successful in reducing inflammation and swelling. If you know your back seizes up or becomes uncomfortable in the car, bring along a cold pack.
Heat therapy can relax the muscles in your back and increase blood flow. It also feels soothing, so if you have heated seats, turn them on! Will that give you a therapeutic amount of heat? Probably not. Look at it like a mobile heating pad that can give you a little relief until you can get back home.
6. See a Doctor for Chronic Back Pain
The occasional sore back may be the byproduct of an especially long car drive or some other activity. But if you have regular or ongoing pain, or if your pain is not eliminated by over-the-counter medication like Advil or Tylenol, you’ll want to see a doctor. Many people prolong their discomfort by delaying doctor’s visits and treatment. Not only is this painful, but it can also potentially lead to more serious, progressive conditions.
If you commute every day, you probably already know that driving or riding in the car for a long time can be uncomfortable, at best. Being in the car for prolonged periods of time exposes your body to multiple forces. Every time you accelerate, brake, and turn, it impacts the body in some way. Additionally, the vibrations created by the car can impact the discs, causing disc herniations and even degenerative disc disease, or worsening these and other preexisting back conditions.
About the DISC Spine Institute
You don’t have to suffer from back pain. Help is available. If you’re concerned about your back pain in or out of the car, want more information about treatment options, or are ready to move forward with feeling better, contact the DISC Spine Institute. Dr. Mark Valente and Dr. Andy Indresano are experts in minimally invasive treatments, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain. Treating back pain in Texas is easier than ever, with minimally invasive treatments that mean short hospital stays, and shorter recoveries.
Today’s minimally invasive procedures include outpatient treatments and easier surgical treatments with small incisions and a quicker recovery time instead of a long hospital stay. With several DISC spine centers located throughout Dallas-Fort Worth and staffed by top Board-certified orthopedic spine surgeons, the DISC Spine Institute is well-prepared to help patients through their spinal conditions to get back to a pain-free life.