If you have back pain, you probably don’t look forward to a long car journey. It may have increased your back pain in the past or given you a major setback or acute back pain episode. Sitting still for a long time and in a slouchy position can cause the back muscles to tighten and even spasm. So how can you avoid excruciating back pain and still do the necessary car journeys? Read on if you would like to know how to look after your back while on the road.
1. Your posture — avoid slouching in the car
Firstly, adopt the best possible posture in the car, which means keeping the back as straight as you can and the back of the neck elongated (chin slightly down to the throat). ‘Straight’ for the back means that you don’t slouch or stick the chin forward. It means you sit on the centre of the sitting bones and feel that your back can be long without effort. Because most car seats position your hips lower than the knees and cause the back to round, it is best to use cushions to:
a) raise the hips higher than your knees or at least have the knees and hips on the same level.
b) support the lower back so the back can remain straight.
Your use of cushions depends on how the car seat itself can be repositioned.
Just keep the 2 rules in mind: hips level or higher than the knees, back straight.
2. Take frequent breaks
Don’t allow your back to tighten by sitting for more than an hour in the same position. It may seem too frequent, especially if you are eager to arrive, but it is best to take a break every hour. The break doesn’t have to be long, just a few minutes to walk around and loosen up your body.
3. Stretches to do underway
Every few hours it is good to do more targeted stretches. Before starting them, walk around and loosen up first. Stretching too enthusiastically after sitting in a fixed position for a long time is too abrupt for the back if it feels fragile. Once you have released your body a little by walking around, try the following stretches for the legs and the back. Stretching the legs as well is important because the leg muscles tighten when sitting for long periods and this has a negative effect on the back. Please don’t do the stretch if it hurts or do it more gently: pain is no gain!
Stretch the quads by holding one leg behind you (or placing your foot on a lower ledge) but make sure you keep the tailbone tucked under. Tucking the tailbone is done by tilting the pelvis forward slightly and is essential to keep the lower back muscles lengthened during the stretch.
Stretch the hip flexors by taking a big step forward and placing the back knee on the ground. With both hands on the front knee, bring the weight forward as you exhale. Inhale and return to the original position. Do this a few times, slowly, on both sides.
Stretch the sides of the body standing: with one arm up (or on your side if your shoulder hurts) lengthen the spine up and slightly to the side. Don’t go as far as you can but think more of lengthening up. Keep both feet firmly down. Avoid this stretch if you have had pain as a result of a herniated disc in the last 3 months.
Stretch the gluts by sitting down and placing one foot above the other knee and lean forward with a straight spine. Breathe into the stretch and stay for up to a minute.
Stretch the inner thigh muscles by doing this runner stretch. Start with the legs wide and then bend one leg and move the body over the bent leg. Stay for a few breaths and then move to the other side.
Stretch the back by leaning forward against the car. Use the higher variety or skip this one when you have had a herniated disc or when your back pain is acute. The hips are above the feet in this exercise so bring the feet the right distance away from the car. The aim is to lengthen the spine and you will also feel the hamstrings stretch. Bending the legs is fine, as this will allow the back to elongate more. Avoid pushing the middle back or shoulders down, instead imagine that the crown of the head is pulled forward and the tailbone backward.
Stretch the shoulders and surprise the other drivers by clasping the hands behind your back and turning upside down with the arms straight up.
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