Traveling With a Bad Back, Part II: Car Travel

Airline fares have been steadily rising, so it’s no surprise that many Americans take to the road when it comes to their vacations. For people with bad backs, however, road trips can mean hours of pain. How can you manage your back pain when you have to take a long drive? Read these tips:taking a long road trip can be hard if you have a bad back

Tip #1: Get Comfortable.

It might seem obvious, but before you even start your trip, make yourself as comfortable as possible. This means using all the features of your vehicle’s seats, including adjusting the seat’s height, angle of incline, and lumbar support. If you’re going to be driving, you should also adjust the steering wheel and rear-view mirrors to make sure that you have as little strain as possible. If your car doesn’t have some of these features, you can replicate them using small towels, folded or rolled to provide additional support or height as needed.

Tip #2: Stretch early and often.

Treat a long car ride like an athletic event; stretch your muscles before, during, and after the ride. Take a short walk to loosen muscles, and then bend at the waist as far as you can—touching the ground, if possible, to stretch your lower back. To stretch your hip flexors, which get tight when you sit too much, do a runners’ stretch: one leg out in front of you, bent at a 90 degree angle and the other stretched out behind you. Then switch.

Tip #3: Take a break.

Once an hour or once every 30 minutes, stop the car and walk around. Even if it’s just for five minutes, walking and stretching can keep your muscles from tightening up too much.

Tip #4: Alternate heat and ice.

Heat loosens muscles, and ice reduces swelling; both are necessary to keep back pain at bay. For cold therapy, keep a cold pack (preferably wrap-style) in a cooler and use it for 20 minutes at a time to keep your muscles from swelling. Alternate this with your car’s seat heater, if available, or a commercial heat wrap if not.

Tip #5: Use the back seat.

If sitting is just too painful, arrange the car so that you can lie down in the back seat. For most back pain sufferers, lying down alleviates pressure on the back and relieves the pain. This may mean renting a larger car for long trips: an expense, but not as expensive as canceling the whole vacation.