Back pain is one of the most common reasons that people see a physiotherapist. An important activity that back pain often interferes with is driving. People may have ongoing back pain that flares up when they drive, or sometimes the only time they have back pain is while they are driving or immediately after. Physiotherapy can help acute back pain, and long-term, chronic back pain and help you manage any back problems from driving.
Why Do People Have Back Problems From Driving?
There are many factors that are involved in back problems while driving. People commonly feel back discomfort in a variety of places. It may be more in the hips and low back, or in the upper and mid back, or even a combination. The best way to understand how to avoid lower back pain while driving requires taking a look at why it’s happening in the first place.
If you are consistently upright and tightly gripping the steering wheel you may feel it more in the upper and mid back or front of hips. If you are sitting in the one, maybe slumped, position for an extended period of time you may feel it more in the lower back. Driving in constant stop-start traffic can result in fatiguing hip and back muscles resulting in back discomfort.
People may experience ongoing or chronic back pain with driving, particularly if their job requires long hours behind the wheel. When sitting in a moving vehicle the body experiences forces and challenges that it wouldn’t in a stationary chair. You have to compensate for changes in speed and direction, the constant vibrations from the vehicle, and changes to your base of support as you use your feet on the pedals or shift to check your blind spot.
What Causes Back Pain?
Back problems from driving can occur from poor posture, sustained postures, restricted movement ranges, and decreased variety of movements. Your spine and back are comprised of your vertebrae, the discs and ligaments between and around vertebrae and muscles at the back, side and front of your spine. There can be structural changes to these tissues from age or from trauma that can change the capacity to tolerate load. Muscles can tighten up from habitual poor posture or repetitive small muscle strains. When the body continues to tighten up to protect itself from a perceived threat, we begin to lose options for our movements, often associated with an increase in symptoms.
How To Avoid Lower Back Pain While Driving
There are several ways to know how you can avoid lower back pain while driving. The correct driving position to prevent back pain is the one your body can tolerate without stress. Your body will send you signals it is unhappy via tight muscles in the shoulders, hips and low back. Especially when taking long drives you want to be as comfortable as possible. Take the time before you set off on your drive to get in the right position for your body.
3 key tips to avoid lower back pain while driving:
- Adjusting Seat and headrest: we often find that people’s car seats aren’t set up ideally. Most cars will have multiple places that you change the seat position. Make sure that you are able to rest the back of your head on the headrest without it pushing your head forward. Try tipping the backrest to a different angle, even a slight change can make all the difference. The seat can slide forward and back to find a spot where the knees aren’t up against the dashboard but you don’t have to sit stretching the arms forward to reach the steering wheel. You may also be able to change the height of the steering column.
- Using Lumbar Support: if the inbuilt options to change the seat set up are enough, or aren’t quite right you can use external additions. A lumbar support might be appropriate for you. You can also fold towels and use them under the hips, behind the low back or behind the shoulders.
- Taking Regular Breaks: even after all of the changes you’ve made to your car seat, it’s still not going to feel completely great after hours and hours of driving. It’s recommended that you get out of your car and move the body every 2 hours to prevent mental fatigue. This also helps physical fatigue and is important in reducing back discomfort while driving. If you know your suffer from back discomfort with long drives take breaks more frequently.
How Do I Reduce Back Pain After Driving Long Distances?
To minimise back pain after driving long distance you can try a few stretches or movements in your breaks or once you get to your destination. Depending on how much space you can try some gentle standing movements. Lean forward with bent knees like you’re trying to touch your toes. You can gently rock from side to side here like a “ragdoll”.
You can also lean back with hands on your hips, or side to side. Lunges or squats can help move the hips and activate the glutes after being stationary. From a seated position you can take a twist to both sides, lean forward between the legs, or arch and curve the back with your hands on your knees. The point is to give your body the opportunity to move again after being relatively still and to reduce back problems from driving.
What Are the Best Exercises For Lower Back Pain?
Depending on the underlying cause of your lower back pain there are a variety of exercises that you can do to ease your back problems from driving. These can include mobility, strengthening, motor control and general exercise.
Mobility exercises can help to increase the overall range of movement that your body is comfortably able to access. These can include cat/cow where you arch the back in both directions from a kneeling or a seated position or bow and arrow which is a twisting movement of the thoracic spine from a side lying position. You can also use a trigger ball to release muscles or include a gentle stretching movement.
Strengthening can help increase the body’s tolerance and endurance to sustained postures. Key areas to strengthen for back pain is abdominal muscles, glutes and hip flexors, and back extensor muscles. Strengthening exercises can include pilates exercises such as single leg lifts, teasers, or planks through to weighted squats or deadlifts. It is important to work with a health professional to determine the appropriate level of loading or complexity for your body.
Motor control exercises are important in helping to change the patterns of the body. These can include pelvic tilts, where you tip the pelvic “bowl” forward and back, or hip shifts, where the hips move side to side. These help to highlight subtle position changes in the lower back joints and muscles and can provide more options when sitting for longer periods of time. Read more about Muscle Retraining here.
General exercise helps to reduce inflammatory levels in the body, improve overall strength and endurance and improve mood. All important elements in reducing back pain and discomfort.
Book In with Barefoot to Manage Lower Back Pain Today
It is common to experience back pain from driving. These are all general tips and suggestions to try to minimise your discomfort. If you are wanting more specific tips or want to know how to prepare your body for driving contact us at Barefoot Physiotherapy by calling 1300 842 850 or booking online.