Driving offers a fantastic sense of freedom. Empty roads, beautiful sceneries, hair blowing in the wind - isn't it a picture-perfect road trip moment? But being trapped in traffic is another story, which turns driving into a nightmare if your back starts to experience problems, a common side effect of prolonged hours on the road.
Back pain is the most prevalent complaint of those who commute long distances to work daily or drive for a living. Unlike the sensation you feel when you're slumped in an office chair, your body reacts to many different forces in a car - accelerations, side-to-side swaying, and vibrations, according to Alan Hedge, Ph.D., C.P.E. , professor of ergonomics at Cornell University.
This article will tackle the factors of back pain while driving and how to alleviate it in 7 easy ways.
What Causes Back Pain While Driving?
The pressure coming from your car can cause the spine to vibrate, pushing on the discs between your vertebrae, causing mechanical damage to the discs. The vertebrae are cushions that act as shock absorbers and provide spinal movement. The combination of these factors can increase the likelihood of back problems.
1. Poor Posture
Good posture is fundamental. If you've been living a sedentary lifestyle or sitting with an incorrect posture, it can likely lead to structural changes in your back and neck. Muscles could become weak and lose their capability of holding your spine in neutral alignment. Hunching your shoulders and head forward places additional pressure on your spine's bones, muscles, discs, soft tissues, and ligaments.
If you're leaning on one side frequently while driving or even sit on your wallet, it can lead to an upper back imbalance since your hips and back become uneven.
Accidents such as falling from a height, vehicular trauma, or a sports collision can lead to upper back pain as it injures the spinal discs, bones, ligaments, muscles, soft tissues, and nerves.
Many forms of arthritis can develop and spread to the thoracic spine from an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis derived from natural wear and tear.
4. Improper Lifting Method
Lifting a heavy object and not keeping your spine aligned can add stress to your upper back. Holding or lifting a massive object above your head, especially toward the right or left rather than the center, makes your upper back and shoulder vulnerable to injuries.
Overusing the ligaments and muscles can generate back pain that can persist while you're driving. When you overdo the lumbar spine areas, soft tissues become stiff and inflamed, potentially causing muscle spasms and pain.
8 Effective Ways to Avoid Stiff & Back Pain While Behind the Wheel
When you drive, you also involve your feet — your right foot on the accelerator pedal and your left foot on the brake or the clutch with a manual-transmission vehicle. If your feet are frequently in motion, they can't help sustain and support your lower body as they would typically do when they're placed on the floor while sitting.
1. Seating Position
Poor posture and prolonged sitting duration are the main reasons for back pain. It would be best if you aimed to have a straight back while driving to distribute your weight correctly across the seat.
Essential Points in Seat Positioning
- Sit with your back straight against the seat, adjusted to about 100 degrees. Avoid reclining further to prevent yourself from slouching.
- Sit with your shoulders and head behind to extend your spine.
- Make sure your bottom is pushed back into the seat to support the spine's natural S shape.
- Try to position the seat's base flat or slightly downward and high off the floor to allow your thighs to support some of your weight.
- Try bending your knees at a right or slight angle, so your feet can support some of your weight.
- Sit with your breastbone no less than 10 inches from the steering wheel. Keep your elbows bend at a right angle and secure a comfortable position while holding the wheel.
Note: Ensure that the seat's base is not placed at an upward angle in an effort that your knees are higher than your hips. This position may lead to slouching and sets an uneven amount of pressure toward the base of your back and pelvic area.
2. Right Vehicle
Your choice of car is essential if you tend to suffer from back pain when driving. Larger vehicles such as S.U.V. have enough space to sit up straight, compared to smaller cars, which often prevents you from sitting properly without raising your legs.
Also, maintain your vehicle's condition and performance by regularly replacing shock absorbers and worn-out tires to ensure a smooth driving experience.
3. High Seat Ground Clearance
As mentioned before, when your knees are higher than your hips, it causes you to slouch, making it the primary cause of back pain.
That's why it's crucial to find a vehicle where the seat's base is elevated high enough, allowing you to sit with your legs flat on the seat. It enables some of your weight to be distributed on your thighs instead of focusing on the lower back.
4. Change Your Ways
Try changing the way you get in and out of your car. Face away from the seat, sit and swivel when you get in. Avoid twisting your back. Swivel out of the vehicle while facing away from the seat. If needed, use the frame of the door to scoot forward. You can attach devices such as a strap with a handle to the door's frame for added support.
5. Move Occasionally
It's still recommended to move around occasionally while in your seat, even after achieving the perfect seating position.
Try moving to a different seating position to prevent stiffness, which may cause back pain.
Performing light stretching, yoga, and mobility exercises can help ease your back pain. If you tend to spend a long time in your car, make sure to allot about 10-15 minutes of light stretching every morning to relieve those stiff muscles. If you wish to drive with back pain still lingering in your body, you'll likely endure the worst pain along the way.
7. Hot and Cold Therapy
The difference between cold and hot therapy is that cold therapy reduces inflammation to provide relief, while hot therapy increases blood flow to the area, useful for muscle stiffness.
You can apply a warm pack in combination with stretching or light exercise during your break.
Note: You must understand that both of these treatments only provide short term relief. Prolonged use may generate damage to the skin if overdone.
8. Firm & Adjustable Seats
Opt for vehicles with firm seats and easy to adjust.
When you sit on a squashy seat, you tend to sink into them, exerting more pressure onto your back, as well as your thighs and feet.
Having an adjustable seat not just offers a comfortable feel but support, keeping you on the right seating while driving.
You can also incorporate lumbar support along with an adjustable seat if you don't have a firm one.
When to Use Lumbar Support for Driving?
If your vehicle already has soft seats but aren't providing you enough comfort and support, you'll likely sink into them. It can add more pressure on your lower back, causing back pain while driving, which can be excruciating.
If this is the case, consider having a lumbar support pillow that perfectly fits at the base of your back and provides you additional comfort and relaxation. Lumbar support pillows are designed to reduce back problems by providing back support and promoting a better posture. These cushions are also lightweight and portable, perfect not just for cars, even airplane seats or dining room chairs.
If back pain persists, speak to your doctor about it as soon as possible. For some, it's advisable to use anti-inflammatory or other medication to ease the symptoms. Yet, doing regular stretches and light yoga, improve your seating posture, moving regularly, and using a lumbar support cushion for added back support will also drastically help you feel better.