Summer is the time when we all pile into the car and hit the open road to travel over the river, through the woods, to Grandmother’s and the beach, and to camp. While we look forward to vacation, many of us dread the hours spent confined to the small space allotted to us in the car or the airplane. Basically long hours on the road can be a pain in the behind… or the back, or the neck.
Routinely throughout the summer, I have patients asking for ways to make their car ride less torturous. It seems that the seat that was comfortable on mile marker one has become a concrete slab and the area meant for our bottom is a size too small. However, if you know the right tricks, you can arrive at your destination feeling good enough to carry the luggage for the whole gang.
You see, our bodies were made to move. When we don’t, they start to squawk. At first it is just a whisper, but if you don’t pay attention, that sciatic nerve or a joint in your spine is going to shout at the top of its lungs. It talks in the form of pain. But wait, pain is not the enemy. Your body is trying to protect you. If you continue to sit in that same spot, you may actually damage a vital body part. So don’t shoot the messenger. Do something about it.
When you sit for more than 20-40 minutes, your muscles relax leaving the ligaments, joints, and discs in the spine to carry the load. Did you know that sitting actually produces more pressure on the spine that walking or standing? The ligament, joint, or disc will start to ache as it carries the extra load. However, if you remind those muscles to give a little support, you will notice much less discomfort. There are some simple, safe exercises that I recommend you do about every 45 minutes in the car. They are called isometrics. If you have back pain, you may need to do them more often. If you are driving, be sure to do these in areas where there is no traffic or at a stop light. If you are the passenger, you can do them anytime you like. Each exercise is done with good posture. Maintaining normal posture will also reduce your body stress. The exercises are held for 5-10 seconds and you will perform 10 repetitions.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades toward the spine, making sure not to shrug the shoulders.
- Press your shoulders into the back of your seat, keeping your head in line with your spine
- Pull in the abdomen, bringing the belly button toward the spine and pulling the abdomen up under the ribs.
- Squeeze your buttocks together to the point that it lifts you up slightly
One that is not an isometric, but that can safely be done while driving is to pull in the tummy and rock the pelvis forward and back slightly, which will round and arch your lower back. This is a small movement, so that it does not affect your leg position.
If you are the passenger, you may also want to try these:
- Press your elbows into the seat behind you.
- Press your elbows into your sides.
- Press your thighs into the seat, as if you were straightening your hips.
- Press your feet into the floor and tighten the front of your thighs.
- Place your fist between your knees and squeeze your knees to the middle.
These exercises will also improve your blood flow, making you less prone to swelling in your feet and legs and reducing your risk of a blood clot (particularly on a plane).
Give it a try and see if you don’t notice how much better you feel. So travel in style….or at least in comfort.
Dr. Dawn Muller, PT, DPT, MTC, Cert DN is the owner of Thrive Physical Therapy and Fitness, LLC. She has been practicing 30 years. To make an appointment, call 229-228-9019.