Long Trips: How To Avoid Pain On The Road

Written by Physiotherapist Kym Siddons.

Are you planning a road trip this holiday season?

If you’re dreading nagging back, shoulder or neck pain on the trip, arriving seized up, barely able to straighten up out of the car, or, even worse, drifting off at the wheel then read on.

Perhaps you’re jumping on a plane? Falling asleep might be your ideal way of avoiding your aching bones and boredom, but what about when you wake up with a crook neck?

Here’s some tips to help you keep your joints lubricated and your brain activated so you reach your destination in one piece and ready to enjoy your well-deserved break!

Move More!

When we’ve been sitting for an hour, hour metabolism goes to sleep. That means, our body finds it very hard to concentrate or switch on muscles that support us properly. If you’re driving, you’re likely to feel drowsy - not a good option! If you’re a passenger (or the driver), you’re likely to stiffen up and risk getting sore. The best rule of thumb to avoid stiffness, soreness and drowsiness is to move every half hour!

Once you get stiff and sore, it’s hard to get rid of that feeling, so if you are more prone to those symptoms, you need to move even more frequently. Doing pelvic tilting back and forth and side to side is a great way to loosen up you back and pelvis. This is easy enough to do while you’re sitting, even while you’re driving. Doing some deep breathing down into your lower ribs helps to wake you up and free up your upper back and shoulders. Twisting your trunk and shoulders a little also works well to loosen up that area.

One of my favourite ways to get some relief from a sore neck and shoulders is to switch on your shoulder blade muscles. It’s easy to do either driving or as a passenger. If you’re driving, keep your hands on the steering wheel and relax your head and neck back on the headrest.

If you’re a passenger, relax your hands on your thighs (palms down).

  • Very gently open your chest, so you’re the balls of your shoulders move back a bit and your shoulder blades back and down slightly at the back.

  • Hold that position while you press your palms into the steering wheel or into your thighs, avoid letting your shoulders creep forwards.

  • Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 3-5 times

Do a set of them every 20-30 minutes throughout your trip, you’re guaranteed to feel better when you get up and out of your seat!

Drivers, bring your car seat forwards

Come close enough so your knee is still bent about 20 degrees when you’ve pushed the brake down hard and accelerator to the floor. You might feel a little too close for comfort initially, but setting your seat closer to the peddles and steering wheel puts your body at a big advantage as it takes the strain off your hamstrings and sciatic nerve.

Passengers and Drivers - Wiggle your butt right back in the seat!

When your 'tail' tucks under while you sit the hollow in your low back is lost and there's a great deal of overload on your low back and hips.

It also means your whole spine slumps into a poor position that makes it very difficult to avoid extra tension in your neck and shoulders. Plus, your ‘good posture’ muscles can't work very well. Sitting like that for hours on end can have drastic results. Strain, stiffness and soreness while you’re driving and even pain that can continue long after you reach your destination!

The best remedy is to keep wiggling your ‘butt bones’- the bony lumps we sit on- right back and wide so they’re wedged in the rear of the seat. This positions your pelvis, hips and low back best for sitting.

Drivers and passengers, rest back on your backrest and headrest.

Holding ourselves bolt upright for long periods of time puts lots of compression on our spines, in particular our discs. We also tend to slouch forwards over time. Add the vibration of a car or plane and it’s a recipe for the increase in disc injuries we commonly see in people who’ve recently travelled. Once you’ve positioned your hips and pelvis well, with your butt wiggled back in the seat. Lean your trunk back on the backrest and try and relax your head on the headrest.

Reclining the backrest by about 20 degrees is best so you’re more likely to lean back into the seat- rather than holding yourself too upright or slouching forwards. It may take some fiddling to get the headrest comfortable but resting the weight of your head back takes a great amount of strain off your neck and shoulders.

If you’d like to see these tips in action via video you can check out my ‘boosting your health sitting in 2 minutes’ guide here.