Keeping Your Back Comfortable On Long Drives

Do your summer vacation plans involve an epic road trip? 

Whether you're traveling for work, fun, or both, you know that the destination isn't the most important part. It's the journey!

Unfortunately, if you're one of the 16 million Americans who suffer from chronic back pain, long drives aren't exactly enjoyable. In fact, your discomfort might prevent you from traveling long distances in the first place.

You shouldn't have to stay close to home to keep your pain at bay. Today, we're sharing a few of our top tips to help keep your back in top shape as you ride, whether you're heading down the road or across the country!

1. Start in the Right Position

Are you used to grinning and bearing it right out of the gate? When you know you'll be in the car for a while, it's important to get comfortable as soon as you can. Here are a few tips to keep in mind. 

Pocket Check

Before you sit down, perform a quick pocket check.

Make sure there are no objects lingering in any of them, paying close attention to your back pockets. From your cell phone and keys to your wallet, there is a myriad of accessories you might store there.

When you sit on them, they can throw your back out of alignment and add to your pain. Remove these objects and keep them safe in your purse or briefcase.

Align Your Spine

Do you find yourself slouched over at the steering wheel? Squirming and wiggling in the back seat?

If you're uncomfortable, your posture could be to blame. To sit up straight and maintain spinal alignment, try to position your knees a little higher than your hips. Then, tilt your chin slightly downward to pull your head back onto the top of your spine.

Fix Your Mirrors

You shouldn't have to strain or get into an awkward position just to see out of your rearview mirror or your side mirrors. 

Before you start the ignition, make sure all of your mirrors are in the correct position. The only part of your body that you should move when checking them should be your eyes. 

One way to keep your posture correct for the duration of the ride? Adjust your mirrors while sitting up straight. That way, as soon as you start to slouch, you'll notice that your line of sight has changed and you'll be reminded to change your position!

Adjust Your Seat

Are you the one chauffeuring everyone around? If you're in the driver's seat, you might feel the most comfortable when you move as close to the steering wheel as possible. 

Yet, keep in mind that this puts you at risk of an impact if your airbag activates. Leaning over for a long period of time can also strain your lower back.

To remedy this issue, follow these guidelines set forth by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

  • Keep at least 10 inches of space between your breastbone and the steering wheel
  • Keep your seat as straight as possible, around a 100-degree angle
  • Keep your hands securely on the wheel, set in the 9-and-3 position. 
  • Move your seat farther back

One note on that last bullet: While you don't want to sit too close to the steering wheel, you shouldn't sit too far away from it, either. If you do, you'll put additional pressure on your back as you strain to reach it.

You might find that car seats are uncomfortable in general, as most are not designed to support the curvature of your lower back. If this is the case, you can roll up a towel and place it at the small of your back to help fill in that gap and enhance your comfort.

2. Invest in a Great Seat Cushion

Especially if you're an avid traveler, it pays to invest in a great seat cushion. These can help support your spine's natural contours, alleviating both sciatica pain and lower back pain.

These slim accessories might not take up too much real estate in your car but they can make a world of difference once you take off on the open road.

Start by taking at look at our Gel-Infused Memory Foam Coccyx Seat Cushion. This U-shaped cushion features an orthopedic and ergonomic design that's ideal for anyone who spends a significant amount of time sitting, including both drivers and sedentary office workers. 

Not only does the gel-infused memory foam add plush support, but it's also heat-responsive, so it conforms to your body's needs. This cushion is also designed with built-in ventilated holes to keep you cool and comfortable for hours. 

If you need additional back support, our Memory Foam Seat Cushion and Back Cushion is ideal. Featuring everything you love about the Coccyx Seat Cushion, this model adds a memory foam back cushion for all-over comfort and long-lasting support.

a cheerful group of girls rides in the car

3. Take Frequent Breaks

For every two hours that you spend driving or riding in a car, try to take a 15-minute break at a safe location, such as a rest area or public park. If you suffer from regular backaches, you can lower this increment to one break every one hour or so. 

When you do, take advantage of this opportunity to stretch your legs and gently twist your spine. Doing so re-stimulates your blood circulation, which delivers valuable oxygen and nutrients to your back.

If your lower back is giving you a fit, bend your knees slightly and reach for the ground. Rather than trying to make your fingers hit the floor, aim to touch your knees to your chest. If it's your neck that's hurting, gently shrug and roll your shoulders a little and move your neck from side to side.

Even if you're able to wiggle a little in your seat, you're ultimately in one position when you're sitting in the car. This can cause your muscles and joints to stiffen up over time, making you sore and exhausted the next day. Such continuous strain can also trigger painful muscle spasms. 

To ensure that breaks don't interfere with your schedule, remember to schedule them into the itinerary ahead of time. This way, you don't have to worry about throwing everyone off or fielding pleas of resistance from anyone who doesn't want to stop!

Not sure where to pull off? This map shows you where you can find a designated interstate rest area in any part of the country!

4. Try a Neck Pillow

Want to doze off as you ride to your destination? If you're using the old pillow-on-the-window trick, you'll soon notice that it doesn't do your back any favors.

Not only is this position uncomfortable and difficult to doze off in, but it can also twist your spine into a painful position that can make waking up miserable. 

If you're riding (not driving), try adding a neck pillow to enhance your comfort and relax your neck muscles. Our Gel-Infused Memory Foam Travel Pillow is one of our best-sellers, and for good reason. 

Featuring the same ventilated memory foam as our seat and back cushions, this pillow delivers the ultimate in on-the-go comfort. It also boasts an ergonomic, raised lobe design with unique contouring on either side. This allows you to tilt your head from side to side with ease as you shift into the perfect position. 

An elderly couple puts things in a taxi trunk

5. Use Heat or Cold Therapy

With a little bit of planning, you can help keep your neck and back comfortable during your entire trip. Yet, there may still come a time when you feel a little bit of discomfort. 

In this case, it pays to be prepared!

Before you head out, pack a few reusable ice packs or specialized cold therapy packs in your cooler, along with your road trip snacks and drinks!

In a pinch, these packs can offer direct, targeted relief to the areas where you need it the most. Cold therapy has been proven effective in reducing swelling and inflammation, which can help you control muscle spasms and flare-ups. Just make sure to wrap any cold packs in a towel to avoid giving yourself an ice burn!

Along the same lines, you can also try heat therapy. This approach is ideal when you can feel your muscles tensing and straining, as heat can help stimulate blood flow and aid in muscle relaxation. 

From wraps to pads, there are plenty of heat therapy products on the market today. You may be able to use a power converter to plug a heating pad into your car's cigarette lighter or dashboard power source. Also, if your car has heated seats, you can also take advantage of this feature!

If using a microwavable product, try heating it up in the microwave oven right before you leave. This way, it can keep you comfortable right from the beginning!

6. Wiggle a Little

When you're wearing a seatbelt, it can naturally be a little difficult to move too much in your seat. 

Still, it's important to shift your position every few minutes or so. Even if you're just wiggling your legs or moving your hips from side to side, the slightest motion can keep your blood circulating and help prevent your muscles from tensing up. 

7. Use Cruise Control

Keeping your foot planted firmly on the gas pedal can put unnecessary pressure on your back. 

If your vehicle is equipped with a cruise control feature, don't be afraid to use it! This resource is designed to make driving as comfortable as possible and reduces muscular strain. 

While cruise control is engaged, put your feet firmly on the floor, at a 90-degree angle from your knees. Push them into the floorboard gently to hold them in place. This position helps to naturally align and support your spine. 

8. Choose the Right Vehicle

You could try all of the tips on this list, but at the end of the day, there are some vehicles that are simply more supportive and spine-friendly than others. 

For instance, a passenger car usually offers a smoother ride than a pickup truck, minivan, or SUV. At the same time, a newer or recently repaired car will navigate the road more easily than one that needs new tires or shock absorbers.

9. Focus on Your Feet

In your quest to keep your spine as aligned as possible, don't neglect your feet! First, make sure they're placed on a firm surface with no risk of slipping.

Then, take a look at their position in comparison with your knees. If they're too low, you can add a firm, supported footrest to raise them into a proper position. Otherwise, you could be heaping stress onto your lower back.

10. Try Approved Pain Relievers

Especially if you already take pain medication for ongoing back pain, you might be tempted to take them before going on a long drive. 

Yet, it is not advisable to take these while driving, as they could make you drowsy. Instead, try swapping them for over-the-counter pain relievers. A few of the most common ones include:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Tylenol
  • Naproxen 

These are known as NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. They can offer powerful relief without many of the side effects of prescription pain medication. Moreover, they also help you avoid the gastrointestinal distress that can come from aspirin use.

Enjoy Long Drives Again

This is the season of long drives, and you should be able to enjoy them in all of their glory!

You don't have to let your back pain keep you at home. If you're ready to get out and explore, it helps to keep these 10 tips in mind as you plan your trip.

There are plenty of ways to support your back and keep pain levels low as you explore the open road. For more travel-friendly accessories, as well as home goods, check out the full selection at our online shop. Along the way, feel free to contact us with any questions!

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