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Back Pain While Driving: Causes and Treatment

If you’re planning a road trip this summer but don’t want to suffer back pain while driving read on for tips for preventing it.

Saratoga Spine in the Capital Region of NY - How to Prevent Back Pain While Driving

What Causes Lower Back Pain While Driving?

There are many contributing factors to the back pain you may feel after a long road trip.

  • Positioning – Poor positioning of your back, legs and neck can all lead to a strain on your spine and result in pain in your back.1
  • Vibrations and Jarring – The constant vibrations and jarring your back experiences while in a car has been shown to increase your risk of back pain and sciatica.2
  • Support – Back pain can result from lack of support in a car’s seat. This may be due to the design of the seat or the way it’s positioned.

Ways to Minimize Back Pain from Driving

There are several things you can do to avoid, or minimize, the back pain you experience on a road trip.

  1. Adjust the positioning of your car seat
  2. Lumbar support for your back
  3. Use cruise control
  4. Take frequent breaks
  5. Adjust your posture occasionally
  6. Ice your back
  7. Apply heat to your back

Let’s go into each item in a bit more detail.

1. How to Position Your Car Seat

The best car seat position for lower back pain is one in which…

  • …you’re sitting flat, with nothing in your back pockets. Sitting with a wallet in your back pocket causes your body to be tilted and puts an awkward strain on your lower spine.
  • …your seat isn’t too far back. The legs help to support your lower back. If you’re sitting too far back your thighs and hamstrings bear the majority of your weight and cause unnecessary strain on your pelvic joints. In addition, if you sit too far back and have to reach for the steering wheel you are putting an extra strain on your neck and upper spine.
  • …the lumbar region of your back is supported. Taking a look at the anatomy of the spine you’ll notice that there is a natural curvature to the spine in the lower (lumbar) region. If you sit with your back against the car seat the seat can help support the spine while keeping it in this natural position. There are many pillows and lumbar supports on the market that can help support the lower back.

2. Lumbar Support for Car Seats

As discussed above, a lumbar support for your car seat can help support the lumbar region of your back and help your spine maintain its natural curvature while sitting in the car.

3. Use Cruise Control

If your car has a cruise control option use it when possible. By using cruise control, your legs can be bent and help support some of your body weight. This takes some of the load off of your spine and reduces your chances of developing back pain while driving.

4. Take Frequent Breaks

Stopping frequently while on a long road trip may not be ideal but it can help reduce the stress on your spine. At each stop make sure you get out, walk around and stretch before getting back on the road again.

5. Adjust your Posture

Staying in one position for too long can lead to stiff muscles and possibly spasms. In addition to making frequent stops, changing your position every once in a while can help minimize a stiff back.

6. Ice Your Back

Just as with a pinched nerve, ice or cold therapy can help relieve pain from riding in a car. Get a bag of ice at your next rest stop and apply some to the area of your back experiencing pain. Ice can help with pain by reducing inflammation and numbing the area.2

7. Apply Heat to Your Back

If you’re able to apply a heating pad while driving it can help loosen your muscles and joints and possibly reduce your pain. If your car comes equipped with heated seat, turning them on can bring some relief. If your car doesn’t have heated seats one option would be to purchase a heated seat covers that sits on top of your car’s seat.

If you’re headed out of the New York Capital Region this summer on a road trip, be mindful of how you’re sitting when driving. It could mean the difference between suffering from back pain while driving and enjoying your vacation!


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*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
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