Traveling can be bad for your back and neck health -- but it doesn't have to be. Back pain is not trivial. It is the most common type of pain Americans experience, according to the National Institute of Health Statistics survey. It is also the leading cause of disability in Americans under 45 years old. Unfortunately, some of the best opportunities to hurt your back and neck actually happen on vacation -- while you're in the car, on the plane, or sleeping on a bad hotel bed.
Here are tips to keep your spine healthy when traveling by car.
Adjusting your car seat helps you avoid stiffness, strains, and soreness after a long drive. Put your seat back in the upright position (not at 90 degrees but more like 105 degrees), not leaning back so you look out the backseat window. Move the whole seat forward and tilt it so your feet are flat on the floor and knees are elevated slightly higher than your hips.
Look in the mirror.
A great way to make sure you are sitting upright and not slouching is to adjust the rearview mirror in the morning. When we wake up, we are at our tallest because our spine is fully hydrated. We also aren't pooped from work and hunched forward. Then don't touch the mirror again. Adjust your posture to meet the mirror -- not the other way around.
Protect your neck.
The American Chiropractic Association estimated that more than 75 percent of drivers have their headrest at an inappropriate height. Reduce your chances of whiplash by raising the headrest so the middle of it meets the back of your head.
Grab the wheel.
Most of us are taught to drive with our hands at the 10 and 2 o'clock position. That's correct, as long as you drop your elbows so your arms and shoulders can relax. Alternatively, lower your steering wheel, grab the wheel at the 8 and 4 o'clock position, and use the armrest, if you have one, or rest your arms on your legs.
Stretch your neck.
At stoplights or rest stops, do neck exercises. Do side-to-side head turns, and gently tip your ear to the shoulder of the same side, then repeat on the other side.
Start out slowly.
When our backs are idle for 20 minutes or so, fluids creep back into the disc. As fluids enlarge the disc, it becomes more vulnerable. So when you arrive at your destination after a long drive, don't jump out of the car and go to pick up the grandkids. Take a few minutes to just do some gentle stretches, maybe at the gas station before you arrive, and reduce the fluid buildup in your disc area and warm up your muscles.
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