Riding in the car can be a pain in the back. Even though your back is not moving while you drive, a person’s posture while sitting in a car seat often results in a lot of force being applied to the lower back. The key to a pain-free car ride is getting your body weight off your back. It may be awkward at first and may even require a little practice, but if you follow our advice you should be in for a much more comfortable ride.
Things To Know
The spine has three curves which balance each other out. In the upper and lumbar lower regions of the spine, the curves of the spine point inward. Conversely, the middle spine—around your chest—curves point slightly outward. Each of the little bones in the spine connects to other bones with discs and facet joints. The discs are shock absorbers while the facet joints allow you to bend and extend.
Have you ever wondered why it feels so good to sit in a recliner and so bad to sit in a car? In the recliner, your whole thoracic spine touches the seat, absorbing a lot of your body weight. Your knees are flexed to 90 degrees, which puts your pelvis in alignment on your sit bones, to help spread your weight. Your lower back is getting great support from the thoracic spine as well as the pelvis. Less force is less strain, muscle spasm, and pain.
Most of us lean forward to hold the steering wheel and straighten our legs to reach the gas pedal. By leaning forward, all the body weight above the hips rests on your lower back joints and discs. As you straighten your leg to reach the gas pedal, your pelvis rotates so that you are off your sit bones. As a result, the lumbar spine is under a great deal of pressure, and your muscles respond by going into spasm. The combination of overloaded discs, facet joints, and muscle spasm all translate into a painful trip.
What You Can Do
So what can you do if you are consistently experiencing back pain as you drive? The solution to this problem of back pain while sitting is described well by Esther Gokhale in her book 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. She advocates “stretch sitting.” The technique is to sit down in a chair so that your thoracic spine is fully touching the seat, and therefore bearing as much of your weight as possible. Your lower back should feel like it is hanging from your upper back, and not under any stress. You can practice this in a regular chair, though it is easier to practice this technique in the car because you can adjust your seat and use your legs to get into position.
To do this, follow these steps:
When you get into the car, adjust your seat forward so you can push off against the floorboard of the car.
Push yourself up and back until your thoracic spine is fully touching the seat. If you need to, use your hands to lift yourself up higher in the seat until your lower back feels like it’s hanging there in space.
Relax your legs and try to keep your weight on the upper spine. Your head should be able to fall back into the headrest from this position, which will take even more pressure off your lower back.
Each time you come to a stop, re-position and consciously relax your lower back.
A lumbar support cushion can also help with this process. Fancier cars have them built in, but anyone can get the same result just by placing a small pillow against your lumbar spine when you are seated. It also helps to take breaks. Depending on your condition, stopping up to every 30 minutes may be needed to stretch, and to keep your back muscles from tensing.
Driving doesn’t have to hurt. If you take the time to practice “stretch sitting” at home in a regular chair and conscientiously position yourself in the car, you can create a much more comfortable ride. Also, consider investing in a lumbar support cushion, and apply ice to your back often to decrease any inflammation that you may have. Happy trails!