Back Pain from Driving

Statistics have shown that back pain and driving are two factors that are linked together, for those work commuter types who have long drives in to the office. People who have to sit and remain in this stationary position for long periods of the day suffer the effects of lumbar strain for many of the same reasons. For car work commuters and those in office chairs, both people must remain in the same position for long periods throughout the day and week.

This hurts the body for a couple of reasons. First, the body is simply designed to move throughout the day. Non-movement leads to the atrophy of the muscles and other tissues. Also, when people are in the sitting position, this puts more stress on the back than virtually any other position. Also, we must consider that when people sit in their chair, many of them are doing it using poor postures and body mechanics. Often many of the car seats that we sit it are not set up with good lumbar support. Let's take a loaf at some of the causes of back pain from driving, and of some of the things we can do to minimize the damage and risk of injury.

Driving is another challenge for the back. Long distances drivers are especially vulnerable to developing back pain due to the constant vibrations of the road combined with the necessity of having to hold static positions for long periods of the time. Unlike office workers, who have the opportunity to periodically stand and stretch their backs, truck drivers don't have the ability to stop what they are doing at any given moment to get out of the truck. Back pain is especially at a heightened risk for truck drivers who have to help unload cargo at the end of their long trips.

In the anatomy and sciatica sections of our website, we explained that the piriformis muscle connects at the thigh bone and travels across the buttocks to the sacrum. This piriformis muscle becomes short and tight when people hold the car seated position for long periods of time. The sciatic nerve runs underneath the piriformis muscle and down through the leg. It may become compressed and constricted due to this tension in the piriformis. Long road trips and work commuted may have this same effect on the piriformis muscle.

If you drive with your knees apart, as most people do, this also has negative effects on the piriformis muscle. Packing your fat wallet full of stuff and wearing it in one of your back pockets while driving may also negatively affect the piriformis muscle. The fat wallet in the back pocket may transmit the road vibration from the ground, to the car seat, to the wallet, and then the sciatic nerve. Many truck drivers who experience sciatic pain describe the most severe symptoms just after getting out of the truck and loading/unloading the first few items from the container.

Here are some reasons why long periods of driving cause low back pain:
  • The lumbar curve is diminished when we drive for prolonged periods. It is the lumbar curve that takes some of the stress off of the discs and vertebrae when we sit and stand upright. This loss of the lumbar curve puts added strain on these structural elements of the lumbar spine.
  • The vibration and jolting of the spine, transmitted from the road to your back has the potential of causing injuries.
  • In most modern car seats, a person's body is lower to the ground. The person's orientation in the car seat is such that the car sear is tipped slightly back away from the steering wheel. A person's legs are nearly straight as they manipulate the driving pedals. The straightness of the legs puts strain on the hamstrings. This hamstring strain rolls the pelvis backwards as they pull on the pelvis where the hamstrings attach.
We understand that some of the advice that we offer you will be unfeasible, due to your inability to stop the car or truck whenever you want. That being said, here are some of the best tips that we hope will ease your pain.
  • Take driving breaks as often as possible in order to re-activate your body and stretch your muscles. If you are a long distance driver, use the service areas and rest stops whenever there is one available.
  • If you get a chance, get out of your vehicle and do some stretches outside.
  • A little bit of change could go a long way in improving your symptoms of back pain with sciatica. Five minutes of walking around and stretching once an hour may positively affect the way you feel.