5 Tips for a Back-Friendly Road Trip

July 31, 2018 | Chiropractic, Holidays, Lifestyle, Summer



Driving, or any kind of sitting, can be hard on the body – especially on your back.  Whether you are taking a long road trip this summer or regularly commuting to work by car, you know that all that sitting can take a toll on your spinal health.

Road trips are meant to be an enjoyable time with loved ones. It’s as much part of the trip as the destination itself.  Nevertheless, the toll of a long car drive can certainly be felt by passengers and drivers in their backs. Make the best of your next drive with the following 5 tips:



Whether it is a half hour drive home, or for a four-hour bout of driving to the next city, you should always consider your personal comfort first. What is uncomfortable in your driveway will not become magically comfortable two hours later. A quick set up before leaving the house will avoid aches and pains down the road.


Choose comfortable, loose clothing and empty your pockets – especially if you are in the habit of keeping your wallet in your back pocket.



Unlike office chairs, car seats can’t be easily replaced: you’re stuck with the one the car manufacturer put in there. However, like office chairs, they can be set up to better fit your body and decrease the strain on your back. There are also external supports that can be added to help make you more comfortable.

Your seat distance should be measured as follows: put your right foot on the brake pedal and depress it completely. Adjust the seat so that there is still a slight bend (about 120°) in your knee while doing so. If your leg is fully extended, the seat is too far and will cause your knee to lock-up. If your leg is too bent, it may cut blood circulation in the lower part of your leg.

The angle of the seat back should also be set and/or adjusted so that you can comfortably reach the steering wheel with your elbows bent and wrists in a neutral position while having your shoulder blades still touching the seat. If the angle is too acute, you will feel increased pressure in your lower back. If the angle is too obtuse, your upper back will tense up and fatigue quickly.

When adjusting your seat height, ensure that it doesn’t put pressure under your thighs and that you can comfortably see the road ahead without craning your neck. If your car has adjustable lumbar support, make sure that it is appropriately placed in the middle of your lumbar curve – the center of which can be felt right between the top of your pelvis.

The headrest should be behind your head, not your neck. You should be able to comfortably rest your head on it while driving. This will ensure proper neck posture and decreased shoulder tension. A properly set headrest will also decrease your chance of whiplash in the case of an accident.

If you share the driving with anyone, make sure you go through all of these steps prior to hitting the road.



Now that your seat is properly set up for you, how do you use it best?  Improper foot positioning is a common cause of low back pain, pelvic rotation, and sciatica. In an automatic car, your left foot should rest on the dead pedal (the small foot-rest on the left-hand side of the driver’s footwell), keeping your left leg at approximately the same angle as the right one. This will ensure that your pelvis remains straight while driving. Make sure you sit straight and that your buttocks and back are square and completely squeezed into the seat.

Place your hands on the steering wheel with your wrists in a neutral position. Grip the steering wheel gently: white knuckle driving can lead to tendonitis in the elbow. Keep your shoulders back and relaxed. Position your head above your shoulders and support it on the headrest.

If you can’t make yourself comfortable, no matter how hard you try, the problem may not be with the seat but with the passenger. Make sure you see your chiropractor if sitting comfortably is difficult for you. It may be the sign of an underlying spinal issue.



If your car doesn’t have proper lumbar support, an easy fix is the Back Vitalizer, a small inflatable cushion available for sale in both our clinics. The Back Vitalizer will support your lumbar curvature and decrease the stress on your spine.

For long car rides, putting a pillow or cushion on your lap can help rest your upper back by providing support for your arms while you steer the car. This way, you can keep both hands on the bottom of the wheel and will not be tempted to lean to one side, supporting your right arm on the center console and keeping your left hand on the wheel.



You should get out of your car and stretch every two hours or so. Many online tools can help you map fun road trips with frequent fun breaks for the whole family. Take a short walk and breathe in some fresh hair. Stretch your hamstrings, buttocks, hip flexors, upper back, wrists, and elbows. Take note of where you are starting to feel fatigue and re-evaluate your sitting posture.


Before your next road trip, book a visit with your chiropractor or massage therapist. Get your body ready for the trip and ask them to show you how to stretch to minimize the wear and tear the long drive is having on your spine and joints.

Make the best of your next drive by making yourself as comfortable as possible and keeping it enjoyable. Sit back, put a smile on your face, crank up your favorite tunes, and hit the road!

To book an appointment, call 613.860.8600 for our Byward location, and 613.237.9000 for our Glebe location.