“Road trip” can mean different things to different people. It may mean dropping everything and following where the highway leads, or hitting the road for work, yet again. Or, it may mean family time and hearing “Are we there yet?” more times than you can count. But when you have back pain, it can also mean a potentially difficult and uncomfortable time could be in store for you.
If you’re a passenger, you may be able to make yourself comfortable or take medications for back pain relief. But if you’re driving, you don’t have that choice — especially if you drive for a living. In fact, one study found that 81 percent of bus drivers have experienced low back pain on the job. So how do you cover long distances if your back doesn’t cooperate?
8 Ways to Handle Back Pain on the Road
Covering long distances works against the common wisdom that says you should never sit too long in the same position if you’re dealing with back pain. But if not driving is not an option for you, here are some tips that may help make the journey easier:
- Use lumbar support. It can be something simple, like a rolled-up towel or a cushion specially designed for support. Just be sure it’s properly placed, at about belt level.
- Move your seat forward. It helps to get as close to the steering wheel as you can without becoming uncomfortable. Being this close prevents you from slouching, and also keeps you from straining to reach the pedals.
- Angle your seat. The back of your seat should be adjusted to an angle of about 100 to 110 degrees to allow you to sit properly.
- Go cruising. If your car has cruise control, use it — if it’s safe to do so. This allows you to put both feet on the floor for short periods and distribute your weight more evenly.
- Stretch it out. Stop as often as you can, preferably every half hour or so, to get out of the car and stretch.
- Ice it down. If you still have back pain while driving, stop for a stretch and put an ice pack against your back when you’re sitting. There are disposable/portable ice and heat packs available for purchase, so if you have a few on hand, you can alternate heat and cold every 20 minutes or so.
- Adjust your steering stance. Researchers have looked into the best way to position yourself at the steering wheel if you have back pain. It used to be that new drivers were taught to hold their steering wheel at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions. But, with the advent of airbags, research has found that your hands should be at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock. This allows you to rest your elbows on the armrests, which can help ease pain, especially in the upper back.
- Heat your seat. Penna recommends another approach that helps her manage her back pain. While she will take half of a pain reliever tablet if she has to, she says, “I’m also thankful my new vehicle has heated seats, so I will turn them on if my back begins to spasm (even in the summer).” If your car doesn’t have heated seats, many stores sell heated seat covers that can be placed on the driver’s seat.
In the end, whether you are a road warrior for work, or getting your kicks on Route 66, these tips can help you better manage your back pain on the road.