Pain Management for Summer Driving

By Dr. Peter Abaci

For many of us, summer vacation also means embarking on long car rides. Whether you are going camping, to the beach, travelling around the world, or simply visiting family, there is a good chance that you will log a significant amount of time sitting in some type of motor vehicle. For those with back pain, sciatica, or other chronic pain problems, this can pose challenges for as avoiding pain flare-ups. Let’s face it, the human body was not designed to sit in a car or at a computer, so when we force it to do just that for extended periods of time then we run the risk of aggravating body parts that may already be hurting.

Here are some tips to keep in mind during this busy travel season to help your pain stay under control:

  • Pace yourself! Don’t try to rush to get to places; after all, vacation is supposed to be relaxing.
  • Create a comfortable car seat. Spend some time arranging your car seat before you leave so it fits your body well. That includes a bend of the seat so that your knees are a bit higher than your hips. If your car seat does not have a lumbar support, then consider making one for yourself, even if that means rolling up a small towel and securing some tape around it to fit at the base of your lumbar spine.
  • Remove the wallet from your back pocket or it will create an unequal shift in your spine for all of the hours that your trip lasts. Don’t let objects in your front pockets, like cell phones, cause unnecessary rotations in your posture either, so consider emptying the front pockets as well.
  • Avoid prolonged sitting. There just isn’t getting around the need to take frequent breaks when driving. The longer you stay sitting, the more likely you are to aggravate your pain. Have a discussion with your travel partners before the trip starts so everyone is on board with how frequently you will need to take short breaks from driving or sitting to avoid this becoming a problem once the trip begins. Why risk ruining your trip with a pain flare-up before you even get there?
  • Stay well-hydrated when it is hot outside. If nothing else, this will necessitate potty breaks and more frequent rest stops.
  • Go for a nice walk when you get to your destination. Research repeatedly shows that walking can significantly reduce low back pain, so go ahead and explore that city, beach, or hiking trail that was part of your destination.

Enjoy your summer and drive safe!


Helen Finders's picture

Thanks for this! Our family often takes road trips over the summer, and I always need to stop and stretch. Really appreciate the other tips!
G's picture

Having recently driven over 5500 miles in 30 days, I can use every tip I can get. I can personally vouch for the wallet issue - it definitely doesn't reside in my pocket while driving.
James's picture

I agree so much with this article. With ongoing back pain, I can't possibly drive for long periods without making it worse. Taking a lot of breaks that allow stretching and walking make all the difference in the world.