Avoid Back Pain on Your Summer Road Trip

A man packs his belongings in the trunk of his car.
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Heres How to Avoid Back Pain on Your Summer Road Trip

With the arrival of summer, many families will be packing up the car and heading to the beach, the mountains, the theme parks and other vacation destinations far and wide. And while there's no question that a summer road trip can be a great time for family bonding, the longer your journey, the more difficult it can be on your spine especially if you already suffer from chronic neck or back pain due to a herniated disk, sciatica, spinal arthritis or previous injury.

First, there's the sitting in place for long periods without the proper ergonomic support. Then, there's the physical and mental stress induced by packing the car, dealing with children arguing in the backseat, and navigating through traffic tie-ups along your route. Add in the junk food from roadside restaurants that lacks the nutritional content your body needs to feel and function well, and it may seem inevitable that back pain is something with which you'll have to contend while driving long-distance. But there are several things you can do to minimize your chances of aggravating an existing back or neck problem during your trip.

If severe back or neck pain is keeping you off the road, Dr. Chetan Patel and the specialists at the Spine Health Institute can get you back in the drivers seat with targeted physical therapy and minimally invasive procedures for addressing a variety of spine conditions. Contact our patient coordinator at Call866-986-7497 or click on the book online button at the top right of this page to set up your first appointment.

Below are some spine-safe tips that you can use on your next vacation to reduce the stress on your spine, lessen your potential for pain and stiffness, and improve your overall comfort while driving.

Pack Smart and Plan Ahead

Preparing for a long car trip can be a challenge, especially when young children are involved and you're on a designated schedule. But taking the time to get everything just right before setting out on your journey can go a long way toward fending off back pain away from home.

First, exercise caution when packing bulky or heavy items in your trunk. Be sure to lift with your legs, not with your back, and avoid leaning over an open trunk while placing and rearranging suitcases. Heres a brief video illustrating proper lifting technique. Items that are especially weighty should be positioned near the rear of the car so you don't strain your back when unpacking them, and if there's a cooler or bag that you'll need to access during pit stops, such items should be stowed as conveniently as possible so you don't need to remove other heavy things to get to them.

Be sure to include water and healthy snacks in your travel kit so you can stay hydrated and energized along the way while avoiding fast food whenever possible. It's also a good idea to pack a heating pad and/or ice pack in case your back starts to bother you. And finally, plan your route ahead of time to avoid rough roads wherever possible and minimize the jarring they exert on your spine.

Sit the Way You Should

Now that you've packed, one more thing you need to do before hitting the highway is to get yourself properly seated in your vehicle in a position that is supportive and comfortable for your back. This quick video will show you how to safely enter your car if you have a bad back or simply want to avoid straining your spine before you've even left the driveway.

Take a few moments to adjust your seat, mirrors and steering wheel for the optimal driving position. The base of your spine should be firmly pressed against the back of your seat, your elbows should be bent slightly with your hands on the wheel, your left foot should be planted on the floor and your seat should be positioned as high as it can be to allow your legs to bend as similarly as possible to the way they would in a regular chair. If your car's seat lacks lumbar support, roll up a small towel or t-shirt and place it just behind the curve of your lower back this brief video shows you the right location. It should go without saying that men need to remove their wallet from their back pocket to avoid unnecessary muscle strain in the hips and spine while driving, and of course, everyone should always wear their safety belt.

Pay Attention to Your Driving Posture, and Take a Break Now and Then

When you're on the open road, remember to maintain the proper driving posture don't slump, keep both hands on the wheel to avoid rotating your spine, relax your shoulders, put both feet flat on the floor when using cruise control, and no matter what the kids are doing, avoid reaching into the backseat even if you're sitting still at a traffic light. And forget what your father always said about not stopping for restroom breaks on long car trips. For one thing, staying hydrated is critical to your spine health because of its role in keeping your joints lubricated and in maintaining the integrity of the disks that act as cushions between your vertebrae. If drinking plenty of water means more bathroom breaks, so be it. And besides, taking a break from the road every now and then gives you a chance to stretch and relax your muscles, which also is essential for warding off back and neck pain.

Stay Safe When You Arrive

To ensure that your efforts to keep your spine safe don't come to naught the moment you arrive at your destination, be sure to exit your vehicle properly, as this video demonstrates, and don't start unpacking your heavy items from the trunk right away. Now that you're on vacation, it's easy to forget the fact that warming up and stretching your muscles is absolutely necessary before engaging in any such physical activity but doing so can save you from a summer break spent nursing an aching back.

If your vacation plans are put on hold due to chronic neck or back pain, make an appointment at the Spine Health Institute in Altamonte Springs, Fla., to receive expert medical evaluation and a customized treatment plan that can help you get back on the road to good health. Simply click on the book online button at the top right of this page, or call the institute toll-free at Call866-986-7497. We're here to help!


How to Sit in a Car Without Back Pain (n.d.). Retrieved from wikihow.com: http://www.wikihow.com/Sit-in-a-Car-Without-Back-Pain

Ergonomic Driving Tips (n.d.). Retrieved from About.com: http://ergonomics.about.com/od/car/tp/ergonomic_driving_tips.htm

Summer Road Trips and Back Pain (7/24/2014). Retrieved from Back Clinics of Canada blog: http://www.backclinicsofcanada.ca/blog/summer-road-trips-and-back-pain/

7 Tips to Alleviate Back Pain on Your Road Trips (n.d.). Retrieved from Spine-Health.com:


Prevent Back Pain While Youre Behind the Wheel (04/23/2015). Retrieved from MensHealth.com: http://www.menshealth.com/health/best-driving-position-your-back

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