This past weekend I drove to Banff from Kelowna to participate in a half marathon. It’s about a six hour drive; depending on traffic, construction (which was plentiful) and road conditions. When making a long road trip, everyone wants to get there without delay even if that means pushing through a bathroom stop here and there. With me, that is not really an option since my three-year-old demands regular stops now that he is potty trained. I’m all for making good time on a road trip, however there is quite a toll on the body that long trips in a car can have.
Weekly in my clinic I see patients with acute low back pain often with associated sciatic symptoms who inform me of an upcoming long travel day in the immediate future. At this point, I know that my session with the patient will be just as much about education/prevention as active treatment.
The last thing that a person with acute low back pain needs is a long, uninterrupted trip in a car or plane. There are a number of reasons why traveling with a cranky low back is problematic. The compressive forces on the spine are much greater when sitting than when standing and if suffering with a spinal disc injury, the bumps along the way are going to be very painful. The other problem with traveling (especially driving) is that you are put into flexion based positions which has been shown to be problematic for people suffering with sciatic related pain. Often times a person will get into their car feeling okay and then three hours later when stopped have trouble getting out and standing up. While sitting for long periods the hip flexors can tighten and since they attach directly onto the lumbar spine (low back), they can be resistant to lengthening again after a long period of sitting. They are also very powerful muscles and exert a large force on the spine which can cause pain.
Obviously the key to all of this is frequent breaks. I tell my patients that they should not spend any longer than one hour in the car at a given time. This certainly impacts how quickly they will get to the destination, but they will actually be able to stand upon arrival. Taking frequent 5-10 minute breaks to walk and do some light mobility exercise is the key to prevent back pain from going from mild to severe while traveling. It is worth the 20-25 minutes later that you might arrive.
Some exercises that you would want to consider would be standing extensions (especially if you are having a spinal disc problem) and some stretches. These exercises should of course be prescribed by a professional (chiropractor or physiotherapist) to ensure that they are appropriate for your particular problem.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.