Long hours behind the wheel can mean logging lots of time getting jostled, shaken and otherwise put through the ringer on the road. For drivers who go the distance, back pain can be a daily occurrence. Unfortunately, driving long distances frequently can also mean a greater chance of chronic back pain that stays with you long after your trip is over.
A 2015 study in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health found that those who frequently were exposed to “whole body vibrations,” like those during long drives, were more than twice as likely to experience lower back pain and sciatica than those who did not. Professional drivers in the trucking industry are those who are at risk for chronic back pain, but also those with long daily commutes by car or people who travel long distances by car regularly for work, such as sales reps.
Back pain begins at home (and work)
We set ourselves up for back problems long before we get behind the wheel. Sitting for hours on the couch, avoiding regular exercise and an overall sedentary lifestyle can lead to physical problems that open the door to chronic back issues.
Even if you split your work time at a desk as well as on the road, you can have lower back pain following you around the job. Some of the best ways you can prepare your body is to make sure that when you do sit, you’re sitting ergonomically.
- Use a desk chair that lets you adjust the support on your lower back, or lumbar region. If the chair itself can’t help, try using a lumbar cushion or brace for support.
- Make sure your chair is the right height for your body and the desk you’re using. Sitting too low means your wrists and neck will be at an awkward angle. Same goes with sitting too high.
- Limit time sitting by changing up your work positions throughout the day. This might mean taking a quick 5-minute break every 30-60 minutes to walk, stretch, loosen your tension and give your eyes a break from the computer screen. You can also use a standing desk, or create an ergonomic standing work station, where you can get up out of your chair and add variety to your work day.
- Watch your posture, and try to not slouch, which puts added strain on your lower back.
The dangers of vibration on the road
Even on a seemingly smooth highway, the vibrations from driving long distances can create a painful situation in your spine. As a driver, you can’t adjust your position very much while still maintaining control of your vehicle. Here are some ways you can make a long road trip more bearable on your back:
- Adjust the angle of your seat back slightly forward or backward throughout your trip to change the pressure on your lower back during the drive.
- Use a lumbar cushion for added support.
- Try to take a break outside the vehicle every hour and use that time to walk, stretch, and find relief for your joints that may have been sitting in one position for a long time.
- If you have a road buddy, make sure to take breaks in driving and use your “off” time to stretch, lie flat (if possible), and give your body a break from the rigors of driving.
Above all, if you experience lower back pain and can’t find easy relief for it, talk to your doctor about it sooner, not later. There could be easy ways to fix the problem, including occupational therapy techniques, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustment, and more. You should never let pain go on without consulting a medical professional as it could lead to bigger problems, and more invasive solutions, like spinal surgery or a need to change professions permanently.