6 Tips for Avoiding Back Pain in the Car

Back pain is a common problem for people who drive long distances. Sitting in the same position for so long tires out the muscles that are supposed to keep your spine aligned. When these muscles spasm, it feels like an electric current coursing through your back. Bad posture can put pressure on sensitive nerves, triggering sharp pain or persistent throbbing. Follow these six simple tips to enjoy your next road trip a lot more.

1. Rest Your Feet

The more comfortable your lower body, the better it is for your back muscles. When you’re driving down the highway, put on cruise control, put both feet on the floor evenly and let them rest. It’s OK to be alert and stretch your legs out at the same time.

2. Create a Slouch-Free Driver’s Seat

Avoiding slouching is easier than you think. Just customize the driver’s side, so it’s naturally good for your back:

  • Pick a good seat angle: A common misconception is that good posture means a completely vertical driver’s seat. In reality, the best seat angle for natural spine alignment is 100–110 degrees. That means you should lean your seat back a little.
  • Find a comfortable distance: If you normally sit too far away from the steering wheel, it’s tempting to slouch forward, which hurts your neck, shoulders and back. On the other hand, sitting too close to the pedals makes your knees feel squeezed in. At the right distance, your knees should comfortably rest at the same height as your hips, and you shouldn’t need to stretch forward to drive.
  • Nudge the seat with your lower back: Now that your seat angle and distance are right, the rest is easy. Let your seat do its job of supporting your spine by pressing your lower back against it.
  • Use the headrest correctly: Give your neck a rest. Position the headrest so the back of your head naturally hits the middle of it. Keep your looking straight ahead. You shouldn’t need to lay your head back.

3. Carry Your Wallet in Your Front Pocket

Do you remember the story of the princess and the pea? Anything in your back pocket can throw off the alignment of your spine and strain your muscles. Sitting on a thick wallet for hours is the worst.

4. Support Your Lower Back

Lumbar support encourages your spine to follow a healthy curvature. Some vehicle trims include front seats with great lumbar support. If yours doesn’t, it’s easy to improvise. Roll up a towel and place it behind your back at belt level.

5. Take More Driving Breaks

Drive-throughs aren’t your friends. If possible, stop for 15–20 minutes at least every two or three hours. Get out, use the bathroom, do some warmup stretches, walk around and eat something healthy. It may take an extra half-hour to reach your destination, but you’ll enjoy the whole trip a lot more.

6. Strengthen Your Core Muscles

One of the best ways to prevent lower back pain is to go on the offensive. Working out is good for your body for so many reasons, but fighting off back pain is a big one. When your abdominal muscles are in great shape, they give your spine more support.

Taking care of your lower back mostly involves giving those muscles a break. Without pain, life feels like an open road.