Back Pain and the Great Australian road trip

Road trips are part of the Australian way of life, unless you suffer from lower back pain.

Living in such a big country, with so much beautiful scenery it is a great way to holiday. But if you suffer from back pain – particularly lower back pain – it can be uncomfortable at best, and excruciating at worst. Luckily, there are a few tips you can follow that will help alleviate that pain, and allow you to see our beautiful sunburnt country in comfort.


Firstly, let’s talk about the main causes of increased back pain on driving holidays.

1. Luggage. You have a great big boot. You can take as much as you want. Right? Lifting luggage (and tents and coolers and bikes) into the boot of your car or your roof pod can put a great deal of strain on your back and aggravate any back pain. Try and pack light, and remember to bend the knees and keep the back straight. And if something is really heavy, don’t lift it all on your own.

2. Sitting. Long periods of sitting and not moving much puts a lot of pressure on your lower spine.

3. Seats. Car seats are much better than they used to be, but many are not well designed ergonomically. This can cause lots of problems.


So, if you are travelling, what are some of the things you can do to relieve the pressure on your spine and have you arrive feeling good?

1. Make sure your back is in the best shape it can be before you head off. Visit your chiropractor to make sure everything is in alignment, have a massage and do some strengthening exercises. Be prepared!

2. Get comfortable. Sounds obvious right? But often, we hop in the car and get going and it’s not until much later we realise we are not feeling comfortable and feel a minor back pain. Make sure you are wearing loose and comfortable clothing. If your car doesn’t have lumbar support, consider a lumbar pillow placed in the hollow of your back – even a rolled up scarf will do. If you are driving, your shoes should be comfortable and well fitted. Empty your pockets of things like wallets and phones. If you are driving, adjust your seat so that your knees are higher than your hips and your arms are relaxed on the steering wheel – not stretched. If you are a passenger, make sure you have plenty of leg room.

3. Aim for a smooth ride. Ensure the shock absorbers on your car are in
good working order and your tyres are not bald. Tyres that are at slightly less than maximum pressure will generally provide a smoother ride. A cushion on the seat will also help.

4. Cruise control. Take advantage of this feature if you have it. It allows you to put both feet flat on the floor and to roll your ankles, which will help with blood flow.

5. Share the driving. If there is more than one driver in the car – share. Not only will it help with fatigue, but it will allow you to sit in a different position which will help with stiffened muscles.

6. Take breaks. Stop. Revive. Survive. suggests stopping every 2 hours, but if you have a bad back, aim for every 30 minutes or so. It does add to the length of the trip, but even a 5-minute break where you take a walk around the car and stretch out – touching toes and arms above the head are great ones – will help. Just remember to only stop where it is safe to do so.

7. Move in your seat. If you are not able to stop every half hour or so, try and move in your seat. This will keep the blood circulating and help avoid aching muscles. Arch your back, rotate your ankles. To keep your core tight and support your spine, pull your belly button towards your spine. Hold for two breaths and release slowly. Aim for 20 an hour.

8. Consider a heat pack or cold pack to place between your back and the seat to relax your muscles. If you read our blog Blowing Hot and Cold on Injuries you will remember cold for acute, heat for chronic.

9. Break it up. If you have a particularly long drive, try and break it up into smaller bites. Aim for no more than 4-6 hours per day in the car. This will not only help your back but give you time to explore at the stops on the way!

10. Diversions. Yes, you have to concentrate when you’re driving, but there are many things you can do to help keep your mind of any niggling aches and pains. Download some new music. Try out a new audiobook. Listen to some podcasts. If you are a passenger, try meditating. Don’t try this if you are the driver. If all else fails, go old school and play the number plate game.

If you follow these simple suggestions you can minimize the impact of long days of travel, and maximize your enjoyment!

If you are planning on a road trip, give our Baulkham Hills clinic a call to check that your back is in good working order, and maybe check out some simple exercises to help you on your way.

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