How to Prevent and Alleviate Lower Back Pain While Driving

30 October 2018

Everyone has a different reaction to the prospect of a long drive in the car. Little kids might whine and complain—or beg to watch a movie during the journey. Some people love road trips and would happily sign up for a 10-hour drive. But to others, a long drive sounds like a sentence to sit in excruciating pain while trapped in a moving vehicle. If you can relate, keep reading to find tips for how to prevent and alleviate back pain while driving.

Sitting in one position for an extended period of time can trigger back pain even if you don’t already have chronic back problems— and sitting for an extended period of time in the car can be even worse. A 2015 study published in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health found that people who are regularly exposed to whole body vibrations—the kind you experience while traveling by car—are twice as likely to develop lower back pain and sciatica.

When you’re sitting in other situations—such as at your desk or while watching TV—you can take breaks to stand up, stretch your legs, and walk around. That’s harder to do while you’re driving. Sure, you can stop at rest areas to take a short walk, but making too many stops will only prolong your journey. Does that mean you have to resign yourself to suffering back pain while driving? Of course not! There are plenty of things you can do to relieve back pain during your daily commute or on long road trips.

Whether you drive for a living or have a long commute to work each day, try these tips for preventing back pain on the road:

1. Move your seat into an ergonomic position.

The best thing you can do for your back during a long drive should happen before you pull out of the driveway. Adjusting your seat into a more ergonomic position will help prevent back pain from developing in the first place.

First, move your seat as close to the steering wheel as you can get while still being able to steer comfortably. This will help prevent slouching and reduces the need to reach for the wheel, which can strain the lumbar spine. Next, adjust your seat to an angle of 100 to 110 degrees to promote proper posture. Finally, place your hands at a 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock position on the steering wheel, so that your elbows rest comfortably on the armrests.

2. Sit with proper posture.

The monotony of the road makes it easy to slip into poor posture, slouching and craning your head forward on your neck. Making a conscious effort to maintain good posture throughout your drive will make a huge difference in preventing lower back pain. Sit up straight with your spine aligned against the back of your seat. Adjust your seat so your knees are slightly higher than your hips, and pull your chin in so that your neck and spine are in alignment.

3. Use lumbar support.

Most car seats don’t provide adequate lumbar support. If you’re already prone to back pain, driving for an extended period of time without lumbar support can exacerbate it. Bring a lumbar pillow to support your lower back during longer drives. In a pinch, a rolled up towel from your gym bag can also be used.

4. Bring an ice pack.

Most back pain is accompanied by some inflammation. Applying an ice pack the area can help reduce inflammation and numb sore muscles. Wrap your ice pack in a towel or cloth to prevent ice burn. If you’re on a long journey (2+ hours), consider packing several ice packs in a cooler to use throughout the ride.

5. ...and a heating pad.

While ice packs can help reduce inflammation and numb cramping muscles, applying heat to the area can also be beneficial. When we’re in pain, our instinct is to tense our muscles—but this just adds to our discomfort. Heat can help tense muscles relax, alleviating some of the pain. You have several options for applying heat during a long drive. Some cars come installed with heated seats. If that’s your car, lucky you! If not, you can also pack a heating pad or a long-lasting heat wrap.

Some degree of discomfort or lower back pain may be unavoidable if you spend a lot of time driving for work or go on a long road trip. However, practicing the tips outlined above should help to prevent or alleviate your back pain while driving so that long hours on the road are pleasant instead of intolerable.