7 Tips to Alleviate Back Pain on Your Road Trips

Traveling with Back Pain

While road trips can be a great way to save on airfare and see the country, they're not the most ideal situation for people dealing with a history of lower back pain.

  1. Get comfortable immediately

    Take the time to make sure you are comfortable from the moment you set off on your trip. The smallest irritant in the beginning can turn into raging pain hours later.

    If your car seat provides little back support, roll up a towel or pillow and place it between your lower back and the seat for some more support. There are many specialized cushions and pillows available for purchase that can help with sciatica pain, or provide support for the neck, lumbar spine, bottom, and full body.

    Don't sit on your wallet, cell phone or anything else that may throw your spine out of whack.

    Reduce reaching for the steering wheel, which places more stress on the lumbar spine, neck, shoulder and wrists. Instead, sit as close to the steering wheel as possible without compromising your safety.

    Sit up straight with your knees slightly higher than your hips, and keep your chin pulled in.

    Since staying still is bad for your back, don't just pick a position and stay in it. Rather, adjust your seat and change your position slightly every 15-20 minutes.

  2. Bring an ice pack

    Stash an ice pack in your cooler along with your snacks and drinks.

    Applying ice for about 20 minutes to where you're experiencing back pain is typically a good way to curtail any pain.

    Most back pain is accompanied by inflammation. Ice therapy can slow back swelling, numb sore tissues, slow the nerve impulses in the affected area, and decrease tissue damage.

    Just remember that you should never apply ice directly to the back, but should rather keep it wrapped in a towel or another protective barrier to avoid ice burn.

  3. Alternate ice therapy with heat therapy

    Alternating ice and heat is often an effective way to combat back pain, so be sure to bring something that can provide warmth for your back.

    Try one of these options:

    • Right before you leave, fill up a hot water bottle that you can place on your back. Refill your water bottle when you make bathroom breaks at rest stops.
    • Buy a heating pad with an electrical car adapter you can plug into the cigarette lighter.
    • If you have leather seats with heating power, turn this function on for a few minutes at a time.
    • Gear up with other heating options, like warm gel packs and heat wraps. ThermaCare heat wrap can be used to deliver low level heat to your back for several hours.
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  5. Exercise at rest stops

    Exercise is often a good treatment for lower back pain. Specifically, active back exercises keep discs, muscles, ligaments and joints healthy by distributing nutrients into the disc space and soft tissues in the back. While at each rest stop, try to do the following:

    • Get out of your car to stretch and work the hamstrings. You should stretch your hamstrings twice a day when dealing with low back pain.
    • Walk around a bit to increase circulation and stretch out the back muscles.
  6. Take the back seat

    If your back pain is proving unbearable and the back seat is available, use it to lie down and rest.

    In simple terms, try to get as comfortable as possible and adjust your positioning when necessary.

  7. Substitute your prescription pain medications with an over the counter medication

    Taking your pain medications is not advisable when driving. With that in mind, you can always alternate with over-the-counter pain relievers. Try substituting acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol), or NSAIDs containing ibuprofen (e.g. Advil, Motrin, and Nuprin) or naproxen (e.g. Aleve) for your regular prescription pain medication while you're driving.

    NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are often effective in limiting inflammation associated with back pain.

  8. Sit back, relax, and rest

    There's usually no better time to catch up on some sleep than during a long car ride.

    If your lower back pain is nagging, taking a nap may be an effective way to limit the pain.

    While sleeping in a car may be difficult for some people, most people are able to adapt and find a good way to nap and get some much needed refreshment and back pain relief.

With a little planning, long road trips can be fun and relatively pain free. What helps you the most with your back pain during long car rides?

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