The weather is getting nice and people are going to start wanting to drive out a few hours to get to the beach or to the mountains to go camping. It’s road trip time! Any physical therapist would request that an office worker not sit for more than a 1-2 hour duration, and the same goes for sitting too long in a car. However, when traveling, it’s a bit harder to just get up and walk around, so I will give you some tips to make your road trips as painless as possible.
Plan Rest Stops
The most obvious thing that one can do is to get out of the car and stand up a bit. Get the most out of your rest stop. When I do my regular 4 hour road trip to and from NYC, I make sure to drink a good amount of water so that I will eventually have to go to the bathroom. I try to park a fair distance away from the rest area entrance, so that I have a little distance to walk and get my body moving.
There are times when the bathroom doesn’t call, and I may just stop to refuel my car. While pumping the gas or afterwards, take a second to stand up, walk around the car, reach your arms up overhead and/or behind your back to stretch out your chest.
I like to reverse the flexed posture that my body has been in for an hour or two, so I will place my palms on my lower back and give myself a little self-supported back bend. For the more flexible person, bend your knee and try reaching back for your ankle to stretch out those hip flexors that have been shortened from prolonged sitting.
Adjust Your Seating
Make sure that your car seat is adjusted in a way to give you the most back and neck support possible. Many newer cars have an option to adjust the level of lumbar support that the driver’s seat has. Passengers may not have this option, so bring a sweatshirt or something similar with you that can be rolled up into a small cushion. Place this rolled up garment in the small of the lower back or the curvature of the neck to help give yourself a little lumbar or neck support as needed. Lastly, if you tend to suffer from a stiff back or hips and your car has seat warmers, don’t hesitate to use them.
As mentioned in a previous article, the use of compression socks is an easy way to help decrease the likelihood of lower leg inflammation. The idea of this garment is to help prevent blood and lymphatic fluid from pooling in the lower leg. The inflammation can be caused by sitting for prolonged periods of time without being able to get much leg movement. Under normal circumstances, movement would be what helps improve circulation, therefore decreasing swelling.
Give Yourself a Massage
This can be a little bit trickier for the driver, but as a passenger, you can always give your neck or shoulders a little rub. To get to the mid or lower back, buttocks, or thighs, try keeping a tennis or lacrosse ball in the car. You can place the ball between your body and your seat and just let the weight of your body leaning against the seat apply a deep pressure to any spasms or trigger points that you may have.
Drivers, please only do this when your car is not in motion, like when you are at your rest stop or possibly if you are stuck in that absolutely-not-moving, bumper-to-bumper type holiday traffic. You don’t want to run the risk of you losing the ball, as it can get lodged under a brake pedal. Safety first please!
A Little Seated Movement
When the back is feeling a little stiff, try a few pelvic tilts or pelvic clocks in a seated position.
If the back is less stiff but more sore, try some gluteal squeezes or core contractions. Squeeze the buttocks and hold that for a few seconds. Contracting the core muscles will also be helpful. Tighten the lower abs by pulling the belly button in and the pelvic floor by pretending to try to stop the flow of urine. Hold these muscles tight for a few seconds as well. If these activities are completed for even just 10 reps, it may give your lower back the support it needs.
If the neck is your problem, try doing a chin tuck.
It’ll give you a stretch through the back of the neck and wake up the deep stabilizers in the front of the neck that help to support the weight of your head. Pinch the shoulder blades back. Once again with the chin tuck and shoulder blade pinch, try holding for a few seconds and complete 10 reps. You’d be surprised how relieving something so simple like that can be.
If you need more tips or are dealing with a discomfort that is not going away, visit your friendly physical therapists at PhysioDC for an evaluation so we can get you back on the road to recovery.