What is Back Pain?
Human vertebrae column or backbone or spine has 33 bones stacked one on top of the other. The upper twenty-four are interlocked and divided from each other by intervertebral discs. The remaining is fused. In the descending order cervical vertebrae have 7 bones C1 to C7. Human thoracic vertebrae comprise 12 bones, T1 to T12. Lumbar vertebrae have 5 bones L1 to L5. Sacral vertebrae have 5 bones S1–S5. Lower back pain is associated with Lumbar vertebrae or L1 to L5. Middle back pain is related to thoracic vertebrae bones T1 to T12.
Causes of Back Pain
- One major source of back pain is skeletal muscle including muscle spasm and strains, pulled muscles, strained ligaments and muscle imbalances.
- Slightest injury to the anterior ligaments of the intervertebral disc can cause significant pain.
- Intra-articular tissue associated with synovial joints of the spine can become displaced, pinched and give rise to pain.
- Osteoarthritis, Osteoporosis, Arthritis, Fibromyalgia
- Spinal disc herniation
- Ruptured or bulging disks
- Lumbar spinal stenosis
- Inflammatory disease
- Other causes could be injury, infection, cauda equina syndrome or abnormal curvature of the spine.
Back pain duration has 3 phases depending on the healing of the connective tissue.
- Acute pain lasts up to 12 weeks.
- Subacute pain refers to the second half of the acute period or 6th to 12th week.
- Chronic pain lasts beyond 12 weeks. The pain may radiate into the legs and the arms.
Tips to Avoid Back Pain When DrivingPosture and Seat Arrangement
Do not hunch or slump as it makes the spine deviate from its S shape. The whole back should align against the back of your seat. Thus, adjust the seat such that you can engage with the pedals and the steering without having to leave the back of the seat. Adjust the seats such that you can easily see the road; and the hips and the knees are at the same level when the foot rests at the pedals or the car floor. Keep the spine straight and the shoulders square. Pull the steering wheel towards you so that you do not need to stretch up and forward the elbows much. This will put less strain on the arms and neck. Your shoulders should firmly rest against the seat. Head Rest should be at the level with the top of your head or at least at the eye level. Mirrors should be adjusted in such a way, that one needs to sit straight to see through them.
Holding the Steering Wheel
While the lower back, upper back, shoulders and head should be in touch with the car seat, placement of arms is also important. Try to catch the steering wheel at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions or even lower. The 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions put immense pressure on the arms and make the back muscles taut. Try keeping your wrist straight while holding the steering wheel.
Getting in the Car
When you are getting into the car, first sit and then swing your legs into the car. Just the reverse applies while getting out of the car. First slide the legs out and then get up. This will put less strain on the lower back. People generally let their leg get in and then dump their whole body in. This is an incorrect way of handling body weight. Do not keep anything in your back pocket or the side seat to avoid unsafe twisting of spine. Distribute the weight on both the legs and do not sit with all the weight resting on just one leg.
Neck and Shoulder Exercise
Red lights tend to be very irritating. However one can turn it to one’s advantage. During the wait, you can drink fluids and water to hydrate the body. You can rotate your neck clock wise and anti-clock wise, till you feel light. Bend the head right and rest it on your shoulders. Repeat on the left side. Rotate your shoulders clock wise and anti-clock wise. These exercises will bring warmth and movement to the stiff muscles. This can help prevent back pain while driving.
Prolonged sitting at desk and in cars can make the joints stiff. Break the pattern of sitting by interspersing few stretching exercises. Wherever possible, park the car to the side and step out. The most relevant exercise is backward bend. It can be done with hands placed on the waist or with hands out stretched. There are various stretching exercises to choose from like – side stretches with hands placed on waist or with hands out stretched; Paschimottanasana or Seated Forward Bend; Trikonasana or Triangle Pose; Uttanasana or Standing Forward Bend. This will help to alleviate back pain while driving. Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose; Dhanurasana or Bow Pose; Ustrasana or Camel Pose are good for spine.
Spine twists help to promote blood flow throughout your spine, bringing instant relief in back pain. Katichakrasana or Standing Spinal Twist involves rotation of the waist with hands stretched forward. Other twists include Parivrtta Trikonasana or Revolved Triangle Pose; Natrajasana or Lying-down Body Twist; Jathara Parivartanasana or The Abdominal Twist. You can twist your spine, shoulders and neck even when sitting in the car.
Support Your Back with Your Feet
Feet are employed to press the pedals. Place your feet on the solid car floor or foot rest to avoid low back pain while driving. The knees and thighs should be at right angle to the lower legs and feet. If the seat is high use a foot rest. Low seat is not desired as the knees rise above the thigh level. The V shaped sitting puts immense pressure on the lumbar region and aggravates the lower back pain.
Use of cruise control while driving for long distances helps to place the feet on the car floor for longer times.
Back pain is associated with inflammation. Carry ice pack or cold pack. You can keep mini refrigerator in the car. Cold presses soothe inflammation and soreness caused by it.
Vibration of the car and jolting and bouncing of the car can create nerve tension that can result in back pain. Use car seat cushions or coccyx pillow as shock absorber. The tyres should be well inflated.
Car seats do not support or match the natural curve of your back. Use rolled towels or pillow behind your lower back. The base of your spine should be in contact with the back of the seat. Some people may prefer a towel or pillow support at the shoulder level or for upper back support. Supporting material at the thoracic level or the lumbar level supports the spine. One should not forget that human spine is not straight but an S shaped.
Thus proper seat arrangement, regular exercise and correct posture with pre-empt as well as alleviate back pain when driving. Have a safe journey.