Long weekday commutes and road trips mean a lot of time spent in the car.  If you’re the one driving this can wreak havoc with your back and spine alignment.  Here are some tips on how to avoid back pain while driving.

10 Tips to ease back pain while driving 

1.  Wear loose fitting and non-restrictive clothing.  Tight fitting clothing and stiff and/or restrictive fabrics can cause pressure on muscles and joints.  This pressure can cause back and other driving related pain.  Avoid back pain while driving by wearing loose fitting and non-restrictive clothing.  Also be sure to drive with empty pockets.  A wallet or cellular phone in your pocket can cause misalignment of your spine and cause back and other related pain which will worsen over the long hours spent in the car driving.

2.  Stretch before the drive, during the drive, and after the drive.  Stretching and loosening up muscles before driving can help you avoid that dreaded back pain associated with driving.  If your commute is long, or you’re on a road trip, try to take a break every 1-1.5 hours.  Get out, walk around and stretch it out.  Your back will thank you for it later.  It’s also a good idea to take a final, longer, stretch when you finally reach your destination.

3.  Adjust steering wheel to the proper position and grip it properly. Ensuring that the steering wheel is adjusted properly to your height and driving style can help you avoid back pain while driving.  The steering wheel should be adjusted so that it points towards your chest.  It should be at least 12 inches from your chest area if possible to and should be positioned so that you are still able to properly reach the pedals.  The dashboard should easily be visible from this position with your head in a normal driving position.

4.  Grip the steering wheel properly.  Most people believe that the proper steering wheel grip to maintain while driving is positioning your hands at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock.  But with the introduction of mandatory airbags, the best steering wheel grip is with your left hand at 9 o’clock and your right hand at 3 o’clock  This allows you to rest your elbows on the armrests.  While most people don’t drive with their elbows on the armrests, doing so can help ease and/or avoid upper back pain.  Try to avoid leaning into one arm rest and make sure your weight is balanced evenly between both arms and that you maintain a straight, upright position.

5.  Make sure your seat is properly adjusted and that you have appropriate lumbar support.  The seat height should be adjusted so that your hips are at least as high as your knees.  The seat should not be so high that you have to duck in order to see the road properly.  The backs of your knees should not touch the bottom of the car seat.  This is bad for your knees and circulation.  Make sure that the seat is positioned so that you can depress all pedals fully to the ground without having to reach or stretch your body or legs.  In this position there should be a small bend in your legs and the seat should be slightly reclined at a 10-20 degree angle.  If your car seats have built in lumbar support, make sure the  support fills the curve in your back without apply pressure on your back.  If you do not have lumbar support built in, either purchase a lumbar cushion or use a rolled up towel placed into the curve of the small of your back.

6.  Make sure your feet are positioned right.  Your feet should be relaxed with your heels on the floor.  The pedals should be depressed with the ball of your foot, not your toes.  Your left foot should be on the foot support whenever possible as this will relieve the pressure on your lower back.

7.  Use a seat warmer, cooler or ice pack if needed.  Heat can relax tight back muscles while driving.  If you have heated seats, great.  If not, bring or keep hot packs in your car so that you can apply them while driving.  The same is true of ice packs.

8.  Position your headrest properly.  Your head should be in a netural position while driving.  This means that your earlobe and shoulder should line up with your earlobe sitting directly over your shoulder.  Your head should not be leaned slightly forward.  The headrest should be positioned so that the bottom part of the head rest pad is lined up with the back of your head right where it connects to your neck.  There should be a small space between the back of your head and the headrest.  Approximately 1-2 inches.  If there is more than that, your seat is reclined too far back.

9.  Adjust your mirrors.  Once you have adjusted your driving position using the above tips, look at your mirrors and adjust to make sure you have optimum rear visibility.

10.  When all else fails, distract yourself.  If you’ve tried all of the above and are still experiencing back pain while driving, distract yourself.  Talk to your occupants, turn up the radio, look at the scenery, play license plate games or anything else that takes your mind off of the pain.

Seek treatment for driving-related back pain if any of the following occurs:

1.  A tingling or numbing sensation in your lower body.

2.  Pain that does not ease when you change position or take a break.

3.  Weight loss you cannot explain.

4.  Pain higher in the back or in the chest area.

5.  Swelling on your back.

6.  If the pain started after an accident.