There’s something about the feel of the road that many drivers appreciate. However, long hours sitting in a seat exposed to the vibrations and accelerations involved with time spent in a vehicle can contribute to back pain. In fact, there’s a study suggesting people who are consistently exposed to whole-body vibrations are twice as likely to experience lower back pain and sciatica. Whether your driving is work-related or recreational, there are things you can do to ease the strain on your spine while behind the wheel.
Adjust Your Car Seat
Give your upper spine and neck a break while driving by adjusting your car seat to a narrower position. By adjusting the back of the seat to 100 degrees and the bottom part of the seat 5 degrees forward, you’ll be in a position that allows your neck to be supported more without obstructing your view of the road. Even adjusting the seat a few inches may take some of the load off your spine.
Boost Your Lumbar Support
Even with all the innovations that make modern cars so appealing, most vehicles still lack sufficient lower back support. A simple solution is to position a cushion or rolled-up towel in the small of the back (belt level) to ease pressure on the discs in the lower spine.
Stabilize Your Spine with Your Feet
Most people get into the habit of resting their foot that’s not on a pedal in an outstretched position until it’s needed to press the brake. Normally, the feet stabilize the lower spine when sitting. One way to remedy this issue when driving is to keep your foot that’s not in use firmly on the floor of the car so it’s providing some spine support. When using cruise control, place both feet on the floor so your thighs and shins are at a 90-degree angle.
Watch Your Posture
The way you sit while driving is just as important as how you sit at home or in an office chair. Avoid overstressing your spine and its supporting muscles by paying attention to your posture while driving. This means:
- Sitting up straight so you’re not slouching
- Keeping your shoulders back to retain optimal neck-spine alignment
- Placing your hands on the steering wheel at 9 and 3 instead of 10 and 2 so you can rest your elbows on the armrests and give your upper spine a break
Stretch as Often as You Can
If you find yourself stuck in traffic, do some simple neck or back stretches while in your seat. On longer road trips, take breaks so you can get out of the car, walk around, and stretch. Simple stretches that can be done safely during times when your vehicle isn’t moving include:
- Leaning forward with both hands on your back as you pull your shoulders back
- Shifting pressure from one side of your buttock to the other to ease stress on the muscles in this area that support your spine
- Rotating your trunk from one side to the other
- Turning your neck from one side to the other (hold for about 5 seconds)
- Sitting straight with your eyes forward as you tilt your head toward your shoulder (hold for about 5 seconds and repeat with the other side)
Further minimize your odds of experiencing back pain while driving by taking steps to care for your spine when you’re not behind the wheel. For instance, getting regular exercise strengthens core muscles that provide some type of support to the spine, which can take some of the burden off the back when driving. If you have sudden back pain while on a long road trip, pick up a disposable ice or heat pack. Hot and cold applications can instantly soothe muscles, ease inflammation, and increase circulation. If you have aches and pains that linger when you’re not driving, talk to your doctor or a Los Angeles spine surgeon.
Preventing Spinal Injuries When Driving
Vehicle-related accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries, and distraction of some sort is the most common reason for such accidents. Spinal cord injuries can have a long-lasting impact on quality of life, so it’s worth making an effort to minimize the risk of sustaining one as much as possible when driving. Here are a few tips for preventing serious spine injuries while driving.
Use a Hands-Free Phone and Avoid Texting
Though California doesn’t completely prohibit cell phone use while driving, the state does require such devices to be hands-free. Using voice prompts can also prevent the need to quickly touch or press something. Even when nobody is watching to see if you’re texting, avoid the temptation to send a quick reply. Even doing so at a red light can be dangerous because it’s difficult to tell when lights will quickly change. It only takes a few seconds of diversion to get into an accident.
Minimize Music Distractions
Create an mp3 playlist with enough music to prevent the need to fiddle with buttons. Another option is to use a satellite radio service. If you’re just going to listen to the radio, set your station before you start driving.
Do Little Tasks Beforehand
It’s often the little things, such as forgetting to put on makeup or fixing a tie, that cause unintended distractions. Run through a checklist in your mind before starting your car, which may include:
- Finishing food you’re in the middle of eating
- Presetting your GPS to prevent frustration
- Placing beverages securely in cup holders and using lids to prevent spills
Often resulting from sudden traumatic blows, spinal cord injuries affect nearly 20,000 Americans annually. These types of injuries can result in paralysis if the spinal cord is completely severed or severely damaged. With incomplete spinal cord injuries, some sensation or movement may remain below the location of the injury. Spinal cord injuries are usually treated with rehabilitation and spine surgery.
Driving-related back pain and injuries can be treated in a variety of ways. At The Spine Institute, we specialize in minimally invasive fusion and non-fusion procedures, such as artificial disc replacement and back fusion alternatives. Los Angeles patients can rely on our team of spine health experts to determine the best way to prevent back pain and treat spine injuries related to driving. Call one of our friendly staff members today at 310-828-7757.