Back pain is so prevalent that it might seem like an inescapable fact of life. According to The University of Maryland Medical Center, 84% of people worldwide will experience back pain at some point in their lives. This doesn’t mean back pain is something people have to accept and doctors cite specific factors and influences that can create and exacerbate back pain.
According to Dr. Jill Althoff, vehicles play a role in back pain three ways:
1. Vehicle vibrations
2. Position of the seat
3. Length of time driving
The pain that often develops is minor, but if ignored the pain can compound into chronic back problems. If you have back discomfort and are concerned driving may play a role, here’s a quick guide to addressing the problem.
Developing Back Pain Warning Signs
Back pain can develop in a variety of complex ways, depending on the parts of the back aggravated by your driving. Driving-related pain typically develops in the lower back. According to The University of Maryland Medical Center, strained muscles and ligaments are the most common back-related injuries and pain. The pain typically expands throughout the back over time and down into the rear end or legs and (here’s where it gets real) spasms may develop.
Adjusting Your Seat
According to Dr. Althoff, a key reason vehicles can cause so much back pain is that they’re geared to providing optimal vision, not maximizing comfort. Althoff recommends sitting all the way back in your seat and positioning the back of the seat either up or slightly forward, because reclined seats can put excessive strain on the neck and tailbone. Meanwhile, the seat should be positioned so that the knees are bent at a 45-degree angle. And men should take the George Costanza-sized wallet out of their pockets when driving since even this small imbalance can create back pain.
Changing Your Driving Habits
Some simple lifestyle changes can make driving much more comfortable while decreasing stress on your back. Spine-Health.com recommends stopping and getting up and moving around every 20 to 30 minutes to stimulate blood flow and exercise the body’s muscles. If your vehicle’s chair provides poor support for your back, consider bringing a lumbar support pillow designed to provide lower back support. If you’re the passenger, you can also stretch in the car by sitting upright and pulling your knee up to your chest, stretching the hamstring for 30 seconds at a time.
Be sure to maximize your time spent not driving by eating an anti-inflammatory diet full of soups, fruits and veggies, like the recipes found at Laser Spine Institute. You should also incorporate some of their pain-free exercise routines to help protect your back when you are behind the wheel.
Buy the Right Car
If you’re shopping for a used or new car, you will want to buy a car you’re comfortable driving. Test drives are certainly the best way to tell. If possible, find out from the dealership if you can test drive the vehicle all day to get an idea if the seats are truly comfortable for long trips If an all day test drive isn’t possible, make sure to spend time adjusting the seat settings to find out if there is enough support in your lower back and if that can be adjusted. For more info on buying the right car, check out the Mojo Motors buying guide here.