Several times per month I make a two-hour drive from DC to West Virginia. This has given me countless driving hours to test out strategies to deal with lower back stiffness and pain. I can proudly say that I have come up with a few remedies to deal with my lower back when it starts to bother me while driving.
1. Bucket seats are awful.
They place the lumbar spine in a partially flexed position and roll the pelvis backwards. The result is usually increased pressure on the intervertebral discs. Bucket seats are also typically “low,” meaning that the knees are placed at about the same height as the hips. (Check your knee height in relation to your hip height the next time you are in a car.)
A simple correction to this is to simply raise your seat up so that your hips are a bit higher than your knees. If your seat does not adjust to the appropriate height, sit on a pillow or a small cushion. This does place you in a better alignment.
2. The gluteal muscles are on hiatus during driving.
I often feel my gluteus maximus muscles falling asleep with extended drives. Weak and under-used gluteals are hugely problematic in terms of lower back dysfunction. Why not use the massive amount of time that we drive as an opportunity to perform some gluteal squeezes? As silly as this sounds, I will often perform a set of ten gluteal squeezes with a solid five-second hold for each contraction. One set of ten squeezes per thirty minutes of driving is not that much of a commitment.
3. I am a huge fan of the “pelvic clock” exercise.
Take a look at the video below for a detailed explanation. Sitting in a car tends to place the pelvis and the lumbar spine in the rolled back, or “twelve o’clock position.” When this happens for hours and hours, we actually lose our ability to bring our spine and pelvis into the upright “six o’clock position.” The exercise that is demonstrated on the floor is actually totally transferable to the seated position!
I practice my pelvis clock while driving, making especially sure that I can roll through the entire lower one-half of the clock range (three o’clock to six o’clock to nine o’clock). I use a scouring type motion, gently rolling through the range in an arc.
Next time you are in a car, try it! (If you have no idea what I am talking about, you really need to look at the video.)
Image credit: Top © Günter Menzl/Fotolia