Summer road trip and visiting your spine doctor first
The kids are out of school, and the sun is shining bright. Time to pile in the car for your annual summer road trip. Only, this time, back pain might be putting a crimp in your fun. Time to call the spine doctor!
“We always recommend that patients come in for an exam when back pain occurs or flares up, because you can’t be sure if what you’re experiencing is a temporary, minor ailment that will go away in a few days or something more serious that needs immediate treatment,” said Dr. Mark C. Valente, Board certified and fellowship trained orthopedic spine surgeon and Founder and Medical Director of DISC Spine Institute, a leader in minimally invasive back treatments and surgical procedures. “However, not all patients heed that recommendation. Especially if you’re getting ready to go away on a road trip, which means you’ll be spending an extended period of time in the car, you definitely want to be seen first to make sure you get any necessary treatment that can ease the discomfort of a long car ride or get a diagnosis for ongoing back pain so you know the next steps to take.”
The dangers of long car rides
If you commute every day, you probably already know that being in the car for long periods of time can be uncomfortable, at best. And, if you are suffering with chronic back pain, your road trip could end up being more painful than fun.
“Your body feels a lot of different forces in a car, from accelerations, side-to-side swaying, and vibrations,” said Men’s Health. That vibration can cause damage to the discs and worsen pain for those who are already suffering from a herniated disc or degenerative disc disease.
Easing the pain
There are steps you can take before and during your road trip to increase your comfort level and decrease the potential for worsening a back injury. Be sure to tell your spine specialist about your trip. Whether you’re going to be traveling for two hours or 10, there might be minimally invasive treatments your doctor can recommend to protect your back health. It’s also important to fill your spine specialist in on where you are going and what you plan to do. Laying on the beach in the Gulf for a week is different than zip lining and rock climbing!
When it comes to the driving itself, everything from the type of car you’re in to the way you’re sitting in it can affect your comfort level. “130 degrees is the ideal position for your back,” said Men’s Health, and is ideal if you’re the passenger in the car. If you’re the driver, adjusting the seat “to 100 degrees and the seat bottom 5 degrees upward. This slightly narrower positioning allows you to rest your neck against the padding and still see the road.”
You’ll also want to:
- Use the lumbar support for your lower back. If your car set doesn’t have one, a rolled up towel placed behind your lower back can do the trick.
- Keep your legs bent at the knees at a 90-degree angle. This is obviously hard to do while driving, so use the Cruise Control whenever possible to give your legs—and your back—a break.
- Change the position of your seat every half hour to reduce back strain and stop to stretch whenever possible.
“Wherever your sore spot may be, low back problems can make driving painful. It’s not just the amount of driving you do that can worsen your back pain,” they said. The smoothness of the ride and specific vehicle features…can make or break your back comfort. Key is avoiding “bouncy” cars. The “bouncier” the car, the more vibrations, they said, echoing Men’s Health.
If you have disc problems or a soft tissue injury, look for: a smooth-riding car without the bounce of a Jeep or four-wheel drive truck; the sports car feel of something low-slung and without enough attention to shock absorbers; and sports seats, which look great but might not be so forgiving for sore backs. “Their generous side bolstering can be uncomfortably intrusive for drivers with sore backs, and can make ingress and egress challenging and painful,” they said.
A few more things to look for: Memory seat settings. That way, changing your seat position will be a breeze; and heated seats. Will the seats really give you a therapeutic amount of heat? Maybe not. But if you have a problem area, think of it as a mobile heating pad that can help keep you comfortable if you’re in pain and give you some relief until you can get back to your spine specialist.
If you’re ready to put an end to your back pain or if you want more information about treatment options, contact DISC Spine Institute, experts in minimally invasive treatments, the most effective medical procedures to treat and eliminate chronic back pain. 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.