3 Tips for Reducing Pain on the Road

Preparing for a long weekend leads to lots of discussions centered on what time to leave town in order to ‘beat the traffic’. What is no secret is that in Saskatchewan we do a lot of driving. For work, for play, around town, or across borders, we spend a good amount of time behind the wheel. Often this comes at a cost because our bodies do not respond well to long hours seated in a vehicle (driving or not). Here are three tips that can help ease the pain while travelling!

  1. Switch Your Grip – Learning to drive, they teach you the 10 & 2 position with your hands. Very rarely do people use it, but instead they choose their own method of steering wheel grip – and they stick to it. Before you know it, wrists can get tired, hands can get tingly, and shoulders can start to ache. Try changing up your hand positions (left vs. right, top vs. bottom of the steering wheel, two hands vs. one hand) to add variation and prevent prolonged postures. Also, neutral wrists keep a good balance between symmetry of muscles used and weight bearing through the bones to help give support.
  2. When Nature Calls – As a pelvic floor physiotherapist, I frequently have discussions with clients around ‘planned toileting’. In Saskatchewan, we often plan ahead when it comes to going to the bathroom. Go before you get into your snowsuit. Go before you get in a car for a long drive. And the list goes on. Whatever the reason, we sometimes go the bathroom (mainly talking about voiding the bladder, bowels are another topic altogether) before waiting for our bodies to tell us when we need. This can cause an overactive bladder and troubles with the pelvic floor function. Best practice is to ‘plan ahead’ less and listen to your body’s natural cues. This topic has many more caveats and discussions so if you have more questions, feel free to ask a pelvic floor physiotherapist!
  3. Achy Breaky Back – Low back pain is such a common issue that it sometimes is mistaken as ‘the norm’. We accept that road trips, staying at the lake, and camping are all accompanied with back ache. Driving is a trap because we feel like we cannot move, escape, or change our situation. People try ergonomic chair seats and lumbar supports, but those tools are temporary and do not transfer easily. (I’d love to see a chair/lumbar support on a lawnmower, quad, or skidoo!) What we can change is our bodies. A quick solution can be to squeeze your glute muscles in an alternating rhythm 5-10x once every 30 minutes. Also try squeezing your shoulder blades together for 5-10x with a 1 second hold once every 30 minutes. Change your position as often as possible and at every stop available, get out of the car and move around. You don’t have to do a full sun salutation or HIIT cardio routine at every pit stop, but any movement and position change is better than none. The less straight forward answer is to strengthen your back and core so it has more endurance to hold you up (literally) in those long sitting posture situations.

Try these tips out on your next getaway or road trip to see if you notice a difference. These tips are just a few examples of how physiotherapy can help with strengthening or releasing your trouble areas, which can help you before you have an injury or persistent pain. If you have any questions or want to discuss any of these or any other topics further, please feel free to ask!

– Nicole Loucks, PT