Commuting can already be painful enough, between a sports car that can’t stop changing lanes, the minivan that keeps hitting the brakes, and the semi truck you can’t see around. If you’re stuck in your car traveling to and from work, don’t let back pain ride along with you! Long periods spent sitting in the car can exacerbate back pain, especially if you’re tensing your muscles or practicing poor posture. Here are some tips to make at least one aspect of your commute less painful:
Ergonomics on the Go
You might think about posture while you’re walking, or worry about the way you’re sitting at your desk computer, but proper ergonomics are also important when you’re on the road. Make sure that every adjustable element on your car (and these days, there are lots of them) helps you maintain a comfortable, natural position. The seat should be elevated to a proper height so that your feet can touch the pedals without having to reach. Your chest should be about a foot away from the steering wheel, allowing your arms to reach it with your elbows slightly bent. Don’t lean the seat back too far — it might make you look laid-back casual, but it can actually cause muscle strain from craning your neck.
Do Some Mini Stretches
When you’re waiting at a traffic light or stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, you can take advantage of the time to relax your muscles with some light stretching. (And without getting distracted!) Bring your shoulders up to your ears, and then relax them back down. Slowly turn your head from side to side, bringing your chin as close to in line with each shoulder as is comfortable. With your hands on your shoulders, gently draw your elbows back to spread your chest and flex the muscles around your shoulder blades.
Try Not to Stress
Driving aggressively not only increases your heartbeat and puts you in a bad mood, it also physically stresses your body. You might not realize it, but in addition to feeling tense, you’re also tensing — and often clenching — your muscles. This can lead to increased achiness and muscle pain later, including back and neck pain. (In particular, clenching your jaw can increase neck pain). Listen to music or an ebook to try to take your mind off of the traffic.
Relieve Pain on the Go
Ice packs or hot packs can help relieve sudden bouts of pain. Another option: If your car has built-in seat warmers, take advantage of them! It is also a good idea to keep NSAIDs or other mild OTC pain relievers in your glove box.
A long commute and an office job can add up to many sedentary hours throughout your day, which can put you at an increased risk of chronic pain and other ailments. Making minor changes like these is one way to alleviate pain symptoms or prevent them from occurring. If you are regularly experiencing back or neck pain, don’t just put up with it: take action today — call the Spine Institute Northwest at 206-496-0630.