Tips to Avoid Back Pain on a Long Road Trip

Tips to Avoid Back Pain on a Long Road Trip

We are starting to venture out of our "Covid Cave" and take those long-awaited family road trips. When I think of road tripping, all I can picture is the packed-down station wagon from the "National Lampoons Family Vacation" movie. When my family and I hit the road, we are not too far off from that setup. Our car is completely packed, there is very little stretching room, and, yes, we always forget something even though we are way over-packed.

The older I get the more likely I am to experience neck and/or back pain during these long hours in the car. Over the years of road tripping across this beautiful country, I've come up with a few tricks that help me avoid the "travel knots" in my body.

I'm usually the passenger, but most of these can be done when you hit the stoplight if you’re the driver.

Posture check

When you start to feel uncomfortable, the first thing you want to do is a Posture Check. Make sure you are equally weighted on both sitz bones, your shoulders are relaxed down, your neck is long, and the back of your head is positioned on your headrest. You might want a professional, such as your physical therapist, to assess your posture while seated in your car seat. Most car seats are not designed with good body mechanics in mind. Once you feel you are in your ideal posture, check your mirrors. They probably need to be moved up. In the future, if you can't see out of your mirrors you’re probably not sitting in your optimal upright posture.

If you still have discomfort in your back, you might need to have a small pillow or rolled-up towel handy. Try padding your low or mid-back to see if you can get any relief. I try to keep a small towel in my car just for this purpose. If you don't have a towel handy, you can use a book, purse, or even a water bottle.

Now that you've found your optimal upright posture let's do a few stretches.

Ear Lifts

While keeping your gaze forward and your neck long, think of lifting one ear up to the ceiling. At the same time keep both shoulders down. You should feel a stretch on that side of the neck. Hold this stretch for a minimum of two breath cycles. Repeat on the other side.

Chin Tucks

Drop your gaze towards your belly button and curl your chin towards your sternum. Think of rounding around the front of your neck instead of squishing the front of your neck. Keeping this in mind helps you stay longer in the neck and prevents you from sinking your posture.

Scalene Stretches

Place four fingers on your left clavicle. Gently pull the skin down and at the same time look away from your hand (right) and up. You can also move your jaw side to side to feel an additional stretch. Repeat this on the other side.

Upper back Stretch

Reach both arms straight in front of you as if you are going to reach out the front window. With your palms facing you, interlace your fingers. Exhale, round your upper back, and try to pull your hands apart by reaching your elbows wide. Flip your hands so your palms face away and repeat.

Chest Stretch

Inhale, bend your elbows and press them into your seat. Allow your scapulas to glide down your back and your gaze to float up. Widen your chest and keep the front and back of your neck long. Exhale and release the stretch. Inhale and repeat the stretch.

Lumbar Flexion and Extension

Feel your sitz bones on your seat. Inhale and reach your sitz bones straight down into the seat. Exhale, curl your lumbar spine reaching your sitz bones towards your knees. Inhale and return to the top of your sitz bones. Exhale, extend your lumbar spine and reach your sitz bones away from your knees, keeping your belly and low back long.


Inhale and lengthen your spine, keeping your shoulders relaxed. Exhale, rotate and look over your right shoulder. Be sure to stay heavy on your right sitz bone. Inhale and return to your starting position. Exhale and rotate looking over your left shoulder.

Hopefully, the next time you find yourself on a long road trip these few stretches help you stay loose and pain-free.

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