Have you ever gotten out of a car after several straight hours of driving and felt like your back was as stiff as a board? Now imagine if you already have an underlying spinal issue. This magnifies this effect greatly. Let’s face it: the human spine was not designed to sit hunched over a steering wheel for hours at a time.
I have already written posts about how bad prolonged sitting contributes to back pain, neck pain, and headaches. However, prolonged sitting behind the wheel is even worse. The constant vibration felt while driving causes fatigue in the postural muscles. When the postural muscles of the spine wear out, they are not able to support the spine, which leads to problems.
So, whenever you decide to hit the road, follow these simple rules.
1. Be Supportive
Some luxury cars have lumbar support mechanisms which will help your lumbar spine maintain its natural curvature. If your seats do not properly support your lower back, you will have to fill in that gap yourself with a lumbar support pillow. You can purchase these in nearly any “superstore” or online store on Amazon.com.
Face it, Clark Griswold, the world will not end if you arrive at your destination five minutes later than you had on your neatly crafted itinerary. You are going to hit traffic. You are going to hit construction. You are going to get stuck behind the slowest driver on Earth during a no passing zone. Getting all stressed out is not going to do you any good. In fact, if you do something questionable in order to “make up time” you may even get you and your family killed. IT’S NOT WORTH IT.
Furthermore, when you are stressed, your sympathetic nervous system goes on full alert. This causes increased tension in the muscles, which only aggravates pre-existing neck and back pain. Instead, put on some relaxing music. Accept the fact that it may take you a little longer to get to Wally World. Instead of getting angry, just laugh at the morons on the road who don’t know how to use a blinker. Playfully joke about the ninny in front of you who won’t get out of the fast lane. But don’t freak out. It will only make matters worse.
3. Take Five
Once in awhile you just need to take a break from the road. For patients of mine who are under active chiropractic care for a back or neck problem, I advise them to get out of the car every hour (and sometimes more often depending on their condition). For everyone else, I tell them to get out every 2 hours minimum. The break does not have to be a long one. Five minutes will do. Pull over at a rest stop and just take a lap around the building. Stretch. Get a drink of water. Throw a ball around with your kids. Do something active to undo the toll the road is taking on your spine.
4. Get a Tune Up
If you noticed a lot of stress and strain on your back and neck while on your trip, you should get a checkup from your chiropractor when you get back. You don’t want any untreated issues to haunt you once you get back into your busy life. Often times my patients will schedule a follow up appointment before they even leave for their trip because they know that the long hours in the car will necessitate a tune up once they get home.
Whether you are leaving on vacation, to visit family, or for a work trip, excessive periods of driving are rough on your back. By following these tips, you will not only keep your chiropractor happy, but you will also have a much more enjoyable trip once you get there!