“Driving through back pain”

Back pain is never pleasant. If you suffer from back pain while driving, it can be almost unbearable. It’s even worse if you’re stuck in heavy traffic, or have a dozen shopping bags loaded in the boot. The techniques and tips that follow tell you how to reduce the stress on your spine during these times.

Does driving cause you back pain?

Does driving cause you back pain?

How long do you spend sitting in the car each day? If you added every minute, you may find that you spend over two hours per day sitting while commuting – even more if your job keeps you on the road. Unfortunately, you spine was not designed for long periods of inactivity. If you wish to keep your back healthy, then you must ensure that your sitting posture is efficient. Luckily, with a little knowledge and effort, a good driving posture is easy to achieve.

Don’t bother sitting up straight

First, don’t have your seat back vertical. Yes, I know that you’ve been told that a straight, vertical backrest is better for your spine, but this just isn’t true. Instead, you should tilt the backrest backward as far as is comfortably practical. I suggest that about 20 degrees is a good starting point. Then you should ‘lie’ your whole spine against the backrest. Let the chair do the supporting work for you.

Tilt your chair back about 20 degrees and let the seat-back do the supporting work for you.

Tilt your chair back about 20 degrees and let the seat-back do the supporting work for you.

Of course, with the seat back tilted backward, your shoulders will be further away from the steering wheel. Compensate by sliding the whole seat forward a few inches.

Second, make sure that your bottom stays snugly at the back of the seat. If you let your bottom slide too far forward it will no longer be supported by the backrest. Keeping your seat belt firmly around your waist will remind you to keep your bottom back where it belongs.

Some car seats have in-built lumbar support, which may help to keep your spine from slumping. If not, you can make your own lumbar support roll. To do this, simply take an old towel, and fold it in half lengthwise. Then tightly roll the towel to form a cylinder about 3-4 inches (7-10 centimetres) in diameter and secure with tape or rubber bands.

002 make lumbar roll 2

A old towel can be used to make a serviceable support for your lower back. A short length of rope through the centre will allow you to tie it in the correct height on your seat.

Tuck the roll horizontally behind your lower back when you sit. It will maintain an inward curve in your lower back, which is usually better than is a rounded, slumped spine. Don’t worry if you feel slightly uncomfortable at first – you’ll soon get used to the new position. Leave the roll on your car seat, and you’ll never forget to use it.

Other tips for car-related back pain

The following simple tips may help to ease any pain that you experience while working on the car, or during long car journeys.

  • When loading parcels or boxes into the boot, place the heaviest items at the rear of the car. In this way you won’t have to lean too far in order to retrieve them.
  • When changing a tyre, don’t risk injury by pulling up on the wheel brace. Instead, use your body weight to your advantage by pressing down on the wheel brace. Use a length of pipe to increase leverage for tight wheel nuts.
  • Working on the engine often requires prolonged bending. To reduce this effect, lean a piece of ply-board, padded with a couple of old towels, on the fender. Rest your upper body against the board, minimising any harmful effects your spine.
  • When undertaking a long journey, stop the car and walk around every hour or so. A simple exercise that helps relieve the effects of prolonged sitting is performed as follows: Stand with your hands in the lower part of your spine, and gently lean backward. Hold this extended position for 5 seconds, then return. Repeat 10 times.

The lumbar extension exercise, which can ease the pain of prolonged sittingThe lumbar extension exercise, which can ease the pain of prolonged sitting

  • A hot water bottle is a good companion for a long car journey. It not only provides soothing warmth, but also doubles as an effective lumbar support.

If you continue to experience back pain while driving or lifting, then please come in and see us as you may have a chronic or serious problem. Good luck, and I hope you enjoy safe, pain-free driving!

Please look out for John Perrier’s book “Back pain: how to get rid of it Forever” coming in February 2015 to all good e-book retailers.