road trip with dog in the car

7 Ways to Avoid Back Pain during a Summer Roadtrip 

Many of us wait all year for the opportunity for summer travel. Whether you’re taking a family trip or embarking on a solo adventure, the excitement of hitting the open road can quickly be dampened by the fear of back pain. Whether you plan to be in the car for a couple of hours or a couple of days, keeping your spine top of mind is crucial to ensure a pain-free journey. After all, what good does it do if you reach your destination, but your back pain flare-up prevents you from enjoying it?

To help you travel comfortably, we’ve put together the ultimate back pain prevention checklist. 

Here are 7 essential tips to help you avoid back pain on your summer road trips, ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable journey.

1. Pack Light & Smart 

The first step to ensuring a pain-free trip begins before you even step foot in the car. The last thing you want is to risk injuring your back before the journey starts! To prevent this, use a packing checklist to ensure you only bring the essentials. Pack only what you need and distribute the weight evenly. Try the following tips to reduce the strain on your back while loading your vehicle:

  • If you have to lift heavy bags, remember to bend your knees and keep your back straight to avoid injury. 
  • Avoid twisting your body while lifting and keep the load close to your body. 
  • If possible, use luggage with wheels to minimize the need for lifting.

2. Plan Frequent Stops

Long periods of sitting can strain your back. As you plan your route, take note of rest areas or scenic spots where you can take a break. A good rule of thumb is to stop every 1-2 hours – even if that means you have to use a timer to remind yourself to stop regularly. During these breaks, perform gentle stretches such as bending forward to touch your toes, twisting your torso gently from side to side, and stretching your arms overhead. Walking for just a few minutes can also help relieve pressure on your spine and rejuvenate your muscles. This will help reduce stiffness and improve circulation, keeping your spine happy. 

3. Optimize Your Seating Position

Adjust your car seat to support your natural spinal curve by starting with the seat height so your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are slightly bent. Tilt the seat back to a comfortable angle (about 100-110 degrees) that supports your lower back while keeping your head aligned with the headrest. This position helps reduce pressure on your lower back and ensures a comfortable ride.

Adjust the headrest so it supports the middle of your head and avoid hunching your shoulders. This position helps distribute your weight evenly, reducing strain on your spine.

Choose a lumbar support cushion, or roll up a towel, to place behind your lower back to provide extra support and maintain the natural curve of your spine. If using a rolled-up towel, ensure it’s firm enough to provide support without being too bulky. 

4. Stay Hydrated

Dehydration can worsen back pain, so it’s important to drink plenty of water throughout your trip. Keeping hydrated maintains the health of your intervertebral discs, which act as cushions between your vertebrae. Keep a water bottle within easy reach and sip regularly, avoiding caffeinated or sugary drinks that can lead to dehydration. In hot weather, increase your water intake to compensate for additional fluid loss. Proper hydration helps preserve the elasticity and functionality of your discs, reducing the likelihood of back pain.

5. Bring a Friend

If you’re traveling with someone else, talk about taking turns driving and being the passenger.  As a passenger, you can use a neck pillow or recline the seat to make the downtime 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. 

6. Wear Comfortable Clothing 

Choose clothing made from breathable, stretchy fabrics that won’t constrict your movements.Tight or restrictive clothing can limit your movement and exacerbate back pain, while loose, comfortable clothing allows for better movement and circulation. Try to avoid belts or accessories that dig into your skin or create pressure points. Wearing comfortable shoes is also important, especially if you plan to walk during breaks. Proper footwear can provide additional support and prevent back pain.

7. Use Cruise Control

If your vehicle has cruise control, use it on long, straight roads. This allows you to change your leg position and periodically shift in your seating position to avoid stiffness. Move your feet around, stretch your legs, and adjust your posture. Be mindful of traffic conditions and use cruise control only when it is safe to do so. This practice can help reduce muscle fatigue and strain, contributing to a more comfortable driving experience.

Before embarking on a long road trip, it’s wise to consult with your spine specialist. They can provide personalized advice and recommend specific exercises or treatments to help manage your back pain during the journey.

Whether you’re headed to the beach, a national park, or visiting family, it’s important to keep your spine in mind so you can prevent back pain from ruining your trip. By following these tips, you can help prevent discomfort and ensure a more pleasant travel experience. Remember, maintaining a healthy spine is key to a happy, active lifestyle.

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