When you have neck pain or lower back pain, just the thought of driving a long road trip and even a short trip to work can be problematic. Sitting in cars, trucks, planes, trains, buses, and heavy equipment operators can experience much pain when sitting in the same position for lengthy times. Below are some ideas that can help you minimize pain and possibly avoid it altogether.
1. Driver Tweaking
- Rear view mirror
- Left/right outside mirrors
- Seat height
- Back tilt of seat
- Lumbar support knob
- Seat pan
- Pedal Distance
Most everyone knows what the above bulleted items are, but some might not know what a seat pan is. You sit on this area—the seat. Over time, it can wear out from sitting just as sofa seats compress. When it’s not level from left to right sides, it will tilt your pelvis and the alignment of your hips, spine, shoulders, head, and pelvis. Therefore, when you sit on an uneven seat, you can have pain after a short time.
Newer cars have a knob on the left side of the driver’s seat to turn for the lower lumbar support to be pushed into the lower back or away from the lower back. Adjust this for the best support you feel comfortable with.
A woven fabric seat cover provides resistance to keep your pelvis from sliding forward that can happen with smooth and slick vinyl or leather car seat coverings.
2. Lifting and Carrying Luggage
Move slowly when lifting and carrying luggage. Lift from your legs bending your knees, not from your back. Don’t try to carry everything at the same time. Don’t twist your back, rather use your feet to turn your body. Keep the items close to your body evenly distributed on both sides of your body. Change sides when carrying one bag or a shoulder bag so not stress one side of your back.
3. Take Your Back Support with You
Commercial vehicles were not designed for comfort—planes, trains, buses, boats and ships—do not provide support of your neck and lower back. Taking a lumbar support cushions and seat cushion with you will give you the much-needed support. If you didn’t take yours with you, ask the flight attendant on the plane for a small pillow or blanket that you can roll up to put behind your lower back curve. If that is not available, roll up your sweater. Be prepared when you travel when you have neck pain and lower back pain.
4. Foot Support
When your feet are positioned too low or too high, your lower back will suffer. Your knees need to be at a 90-degree angle from your lower back to avoid lower back stress and pain. Use a footrest if your seat is too high. When driving use cruise control so that both feet rest on the floorboard.
5. Lighten Your Load
Pack smart and light when traveling. Use luggage that has wheels to pull along so you do not have to carry it. When you carry luggage, you put stress on your lower back straining muscles and joints that will eventually cause pain. Take a few bags and not stuff everything into one. You still have to get it into your car. Let the support teams on commercial vehicles lift carry-on items into the overhead bin.
6. Good Posture
To avoid neck and back pain, you must keep your body in alignment. Stand with your back against the wall, shoulders and head back. You should have the inward curve of your lower back spine not touching the wall. Practice this and you will notice a difference. When sitting for long times, your lower spine compresses and causes pain. When you carry a purse or shoulder bag, you definitely stress your lower back. Keep your shoulders straight with your feet below your hips. When you drive, adjust the steering wheel, and seat for comfort and not reaching or lifting for the steering wheel.
7. Move, Move, Move
Squats take tension from sitting off the lower back. This is one of the best exercises to do along with walking. The back muscles stiffen up with prolonged sitting and standing in one place. Stretch and move about every 20 minutes or so to get the blood flowing. Moving about stops blood clots from developing in the legs known as deep vein thrombosis. Drinking lots of water keeps blood thinner to move more freely.
8. Back Pain Treatment Relief
Use ice packs or frozen peas that move around the area and place in front of your support cushion for 20 minutes at a time. Heat causes swelling, yet some people alternate heat and cold. Do not put ice or heat directly on your skin.
TENS and/or EMS devices will provide muscle stimulation in conjunction with a lumbar support pillow or used alone. A much-needed massage is relaxing to muscles with a hand-held massager. Another resource for eliminating pain is massage pillows.
9. Truck and Commercial Vehicle Drivers
Over-the-road truckers, local delivery truck drivers, taxi drivers and even the pizza delivery person agonize with lower back pain at four times the national average. You folks need help! It’s not good to sit on the tail end of your spine all day.
The spine has 24 vertebrae bones. They sit on one another and are cushioned with discs that are a fibro elastic tissue to let you bend, spring back and act as the glue holding everything together.
Squatting is the best exercise. Ancient civilizations did this—they didn’t sit on their butts. They ate, delivered babies, prepared grain and food, and went to the bathroom—squatting. When squatting, the spinal discs pull apart that sucks in water and fluids to let the fibro elastic discs similar to small pillows plump up again. This is hard to do when you sit behind the wheel or in a chair all day. Squatting is Mother Nature’s way to decompress spinal discs!
A lumbar support pillow or back brace can help tremendously with this situation. When your steering wheel is almost horizontal, this is not good for your spine. You will be slumped over all day and almost steer with your forearms. A pillow will keep you better supported and relaxed.