During a recent weekend, I travelled to Port Macquarie. I was amazed at the number of caravan parks full of travellers from all over Australia. Some had done the ‘short drive’ down from Brisbane or up from Sydney, but a larger number of people had travelled much longer and further than I would have expected.
Prolonged sitting – whether in a car or not – can place increased stress and strain on the body. However, cars traditionally contain bucket type seats which tend to encourage a slumped or slouched posture. For short trips, this isn’t necessarily problematic. However, on back-to-back days, this commonly causes increased stress and strain on muscles, ligaments and structures around the spine.
Incorrect seating and steering wheel set-up can mean that drivers or passengers may adopt awkward, slouched and unsupported postures. A large amount of cumulative stress and strain is placed on the spine when long periods of driving are coupled with sitting in foldable camping chairs with little support.
This is commonly why people may injure themselves doing seemingly innocuous and simple tasks. For example, have you ever wondered why you can easily lift your suitcase or heavy shopping out of your car, then suddenly strain your back while doing something simple such as putting on your shoes?
Regardless of what type of car you drive, additional lumbar support is highly recommended. A simple way to provide yourself with more lumbar support is to place a rolled-up towel in the small of your back. This support prevents you from getting into positions that may cause too much strain to your lower back. This strategy can be utilised for all forms of transport and travel.
Additionally, ensure you are not reaching over the steering wheel, and that the back of the car seat fully supports your upper back, shoulders and head.
Strain placed on the spine is essentially cumulative. Try to ensure that time is spent in a standing posture when arriving at your destination. Several exercises can also be performed at regular pit stops as well as each night.
Try the following group of exercises. These shouldn’t take any more than five to 10 minutes a day. Some of these exercises you may already instinctively do when you’re getting a bit stiff or sore in the car! These exercises are also good for anyone who sits for long periods.
- stand up straight with your hands on your hips or in the small of your back. Gently push your hips forward as far as you can hold for a few seconds. Repeat 10-12 times
- stand tall. Rise up and down on your toes. Repeat 10-12 times
- stand tall. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for 2–3 seconds. Repeat 10-12 times
- chin tucks. Look straight ahead in a seated or standing position. Tuck your chin in (as if to mimic giving yourself a double chin). Hold for 2–3 seconds and repeat 10–12 times. Try to avoid looking down or nodding your head
- walk! One of the best exercises to do to break up the long period of sitting is to walk. It doesn’t need to be brisk, but walking allows gentle rotation and stretch around the spine. Naturally, the more brisk you walk, the more the spine stretches and rotates.
Next time you sit in the car, be sure to double check your seating set-up. Couple that with a few simple exercises and you’ll be travelling pain-free.
Jason Lee is a physiotherapist. He is happy to answer any questions you may have. Simply send an email to email@example.com
Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner or health professional.
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