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6 Ways to Avoid Back Pain on Your Winter Road Trips

Authored by Dr. Christopher Good, MD, FACS. December 21, 2020

The holidays are finally here! As many Americans hit the road for a change of scenery this winter, comfort is more important than ever. Whether you’re taking weekend day trips in the car or heading to a far away destination, it’s time for some fun. Since many of us are opting for car travel instead of planes or trains this winter due to COVID-19, we have some tips to keep your road trip safe, comfortable, and fun. 

6 Helpful Tips to Avoid Back Pain During Road Trips

  1. Take Breaks
    Sitting in the same position for a long period of time, where you are unable to fully stretch your legs and back, can cause lower back tension in anyone — especially someone with pre-existing back pain. Our bodies are not meant to be idle for very long, and they require movement to increase blood flow. A good way to remember to stop and stretch is to drink 1-2 cups of water each hour and let your bladder control the timing of your breaks. This will help remind you to find a rest stop when you need it. 
  2. Extend the Breaks
    Don’t just stop for a quick gas refill and jump right back into the car moments later. Make sure your stops include stretching out your neck and back for about 15-20 minutes. Try to pick a rest stop, that way you can comfortably walk around and relax your body. Remember to plan this extra time into your schedule before you leave so you don’t feel rushed. It may extend your car trip, but your back will thank you. 
  3. Position Your Chair In The Right Spot
    While traveling by car may be a lot safer right now due to COVID-19, it can still be just as uncomfortable as the middle seat on a plane if you don’t have the correct chair setup. Experts say a 100 degree angled chair is ideal, but if that doesn’t work for you, test out the most comfortable position before you leave. Add any extra pillows or back support you may need to enjoy the scenery comfortably on your long drive.
  4. Use the Buddy System
    This advice applies in elementary school and even throughout adulthood: travel in twos! If you are traveling with a passenger, take breaks and switch off who is driving every time you stop for a stretch break. By doing it this way, you can stretch out more comfortably on your “off” time even though you will be back in the car. As a passenger, bring a neck pillow to use during your downtime and recline the seat to make it most comfortable for you. You can also do small exercises, like shoulder rolls and gentle twists, while riding as a passenger to keep your spine at ease. 
  5. Avoid Tech Neck
    Yes, you can suffer from Tech Neck even in the car, especially as a passenger. If you are a passenger relaxing in the front seat, use a dashboard mount to hold your phone when watching a movie. This will help keep it closer to eye level and keep the stress off your neck. If you are stretching out in the backseat, use an accessory that holds your electronic device to the headrest in front of you. If you don’t have either of these, try to hold your phone/tablet at eye level and take breaks to stretch your neck and correct your posture. Planning and packing ahead for this will help combat some of the frustration or pain you may experience while already on the road.
  6. Eat right
    It may be tempting to stop for fast food on road trips because, well, it’s “fast”. But is the fastest option always the best option? When it comes to your health, the answer is NO. Salty, rich meals can cause discomfort and may result in you slouching in your seat to alleviate that pain. Your best course of action is to pack some healthy snacks that are rich in protein, and are minimally processed so you stay fuller longer. Eating more fruits and vegetables will also ensure your body is focused and will not get groggy during the long car ride. When you do stop for a meal, try to pick a place that has healthy options. The good news is, many fast food restaurants have lighter options like wraps and salads. Do what you can to avoid the fast meals, and look for a fresh salad or a meal with lots of protein, fruits, and vegetables. 

Though traveling might look a little different this holiday season, it doesn’t mean it has to be a pain in your back! The key to comfort is keeping your pain in check. Don’t wait until it’s too late to stop or ask for a break. Even if you feel slightly uncomfortable, it’s best to err on the side of caution and take a break to stretch. Road trips may not be as easy as they used to be, but keeping these tips in mind will help ensure that your back pain can be kept at arm’s length. If you are experiencing low back pain before your trip or once you return, be sure to schedule a consultation at Virginia Spine Institute. Have a safe and happy holiday season! 

Dr. Christopher Good is a double board certified spine surgeon and the President of Virginia Spine Institute. Established as a world expert in the field, Dr. Good has pioneered the use of robotics, navigation, and augmented reality (AR) in spine surgery. He performed the first two-level disc replacement in Metro DC, Maryland, and Virginia region, and continues to evolve motion-enhancing procedures for patients suffering from neck and back conditions. Dr. Good has been named “Top Doctor” consistently over the past decade.  Learn more about Dr. Christopher Good.

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Dr. Christopher Good, MD, FACS

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