Relatively low gas prices, high airfare and painfully long TSA lines are pushing more families than ever to head out on the highways this summer. But before the rubber meets the road, spine specialists caution travelers to check their “POSTURE,” an easy-to-remember acronym for seven tips to keep back pain at a distance.
“Many people think of a road trip as a lazy and inexpensive vacation, but it is actually a tough workout for your back and can end up costing you big in health care costs and lost work down the road,” said Chad Patton, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and the chair of the NASS Public Affairs Committee. “By using the seven preventive tips from ‘POSTURE” this summer, traveling families can stay pain-free and keep the focus on enjoying this special time together.”
Position your body for comfort and support as soon as you get into the car and put on your seatbelt. Adjust your seat to a 100-degree angle to prevent slouching. Make sure you can see mirrors and dashboard gauges without turning your head when it is supported by the headrest. Support your lower back’s natural curve with a pillow or rolled-up shirt or towel placed in the small of your back. Be close enough to the steering wheel that your elbows and knees are slightly bent.
Only pack what you absolutely need. Lifting suitcases and coolers can cause back strain, so pack less and work with a partner to lift any heavy items, using your leg muscles, not your back.
Share the driving. Don’t drive the entire route—let others take a turn at driving. Use the extra time to relax, enjoy being with family and watching the passing scenery!
Take a break every 45-60 minutes to let everyone in the vehicle drink water, walk around to improve circulation, and gently stretch their back, neck and hip flexor muscles. In between exercise stops, try to move a little in your seat—even 10 seconds of movement and gentle stretching is helpful.
Use cruise control—resting both feet on the floor is easier on your back and hips than constant foot pedal movement.
Remove items from your back pockets. It sounds unbelievable, but sitting on or against a wallet or cellphone for a long period of time can throw your spine out of alignment and trigger back and leg pain.
Easy does it! Choose a passenger car rather than a pickup truck or SUV for your journey, preferably one with automatic transmission. Replace worn shocks, brakes or tires before your trip to ensure a smooth ride. Choose a route with the least traffic, construction and potholes.
And the self-care should not stop there. Dr. Patton recommends that families rest and consider some stretching exercises when they get to their destination, too. “It’s only natural to want to hop on the thrill rides the second you get to Universal Studios or go hiking when you make it to the Grand Canyon. If you can, try to build enough time in your schedule to rest your back, perform some gentle stretches, and decompress emotionally from your long drive for a few hours or ideally, overnight.”
The North American Spine Society is a multidisciplinary medical organization dedicated to fostering the highest quality, evidenced-based and ethical spine care by promoting education, research and advocacy. NASS is comprised of more than 8,000 members from several disciplines, including orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, physiatry, neurology, radiology, anesthesiology, research and physical therapy.