Tips for Traveling in a Car with Back Pain/Sciatica

Traveling is fun and enjoyable, but traveling with back pain can make be, well, a pain.

One of the most common causes of low back pain is postural stress that is brought on by sitting for a long time in a poor position. Unfortunately, many of us spend much of our work and leisure time with our low back in a flexed (rounded) position in which the normal lordotic (inward) curve of our back is decreased or lost completely. As we begin to see the thermometer rise, our summer trips and vacations that were planned during the cold, dark days of winter come to fruition. That excitement, however, can quickly turn to stress and despair if you are suffering from an episode of low back pain. The thought of spending hours, let alone a few minutes, in the car can become overwhelming.

Step 1

The first step that is required to avoid the development of low back pain due to prolonged sitting is to simply sit correctly. Sitting correctly may require you to learn how to form the lordosis in your low back while sitting and performing the slouch-overcorrect procedure can help with that.

Here’s how:

  1. Sit on a dining room chair and allow yourself to relax for a few seconds in a slouched position, then draw yourself up and accentuate your lordosis as far as possible. This would represent the extreme of the correct sitting posture.
  2. Hold yourself in this position for a few seconds and then return to the fully relaxed position
    1. Movement from the slouched to upright sitting position should be done in a rhythmic way from the extreme of the bad to the extreme of the good sitting posture.
    2. This exercise must be performed 10-15 repetitions, three times per day

Step 2

The second step is the maintenance of the lordosis. To sit comfortably and correctly you much sit just short of the extreme good posture mentioned above, releasing the last 10% of the lordosis strain. When sitting like this, it requires you to maintain the lordosis with your own muscular effort and you cannot fully relax. As few seats provide adequate support for the low back, a lumbar roll becomes a necessity when traveling in a car.

Step 3

Finally, it is a must that you regularly interrupt the prolonged sitting. Traveling for long distances without regular breaks may cause a gradual and progressive onset of low back pain or may simply aggravate an already existing problem. My advice for you would be to stop the car every hour to get out and bend backward repeatedly, five to ten times, and to take a few minutes to walk around. This simple recommendation will help to reduce pressures and stress within the discs and surrounding tissues. Yes, this will add some time and inconvenience to your trip but consider the alternative of dreading the trip or not making the trip at all.

So, there you have it, implementing these three simple tips can make an otherwise anxious and uncomfortable car ride a much more enjoyable one…although it may add a few more minutes to your trip. Unfortunately, as beneficial as these tips may be, they are not intended to fully treat back pain or the loss of function that may come with it. If you are currently suffering, or have previously suffered, from an episode of low back pain and would like a comprehensive evaluation and treatment of your low back pain, contact your physical therapist at Apex.

Happy Travels!

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