Back Pain and Neck Pain while Driving

Back pain and neck pain while driving

I notice that I get low back pain and neck pain when I am driving in my car. What can I do to stop this?

Low back and neck pain that comes on when driving is usually a result of being in a sustained posture for a longer period of time than is usual for you. When you are not in a car, you probably change positions regularly, which will give the muscles and ligaments in your back time to rest and allow other muscles to work. When you are driving, you are limited in how much you can change positions, so the key is to put yourself in the optimum position!
Your back has a normal curvature with a slight “arch” at the base of your spine, and at the top of your spine in your neck. Ideally, keeping your spine in that normal curvature when driving will decrease your back and neck pain.

Try not to recline the back of the seat too much. When you do this, the automatic response is for you to slouch at the base of the spine, and poke your chin out and move the neck forward. It is hard work for the muscles around your neck to hold this position and often the shoulder muscles tighten up and feel tired. Also, if your neck is in a forward head position, it could pinch some of the nerves in your neck that exit the spinal canal and head out to stimulate the muscles in your arms. You may feel a burning sensation or pain going down one or both arms. If this happens to you, check what position your head is in, and if it is forward, put your seat up and bring your head back in line with your body.

Ideally, you should drive with your head resting on the back of your headrest, and keeping the shoulders and arms relaxed. In this position, your neck muscles are working minimally to keep the head up, and therefore, get to rest.

For the low back, avoid the slouching position. Keep the back of your seat up tall and if your car seat has a good curvature at the base of the spine, you should minimize your low back pain. If your seat does not have a good curvature, roll a towel up and place it at the base of your spine in between your back and the seat and then sit back and relax. Your back will rest in its ideal position. If you find it makes you ‘arch’ too much, use a smaller towel.

Finally, if your pain still persists, consult a physiotherapist or your family physician.

Helpful Hints brought to you by Tina and Connie from HCRC, 85 Main Street East, Milton, ON.

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