How Do You Relieve Pain from Driving?
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How Do You Relieve Pain from Driving?

Headshot of a man with a blurred background By Ben Reiland February 8, 2024

Categories: Mobile Workforce Motus Members

For people who spend long periods on the road, pain is a common occurrence. While driving, there’s only so much moving around or stretching that you can do. Plus, it worsens when there is very little space in the car. With this in mind, knowing how to relieve pain from driving can save you a lot of physical trouble. Fortunately, this post has all the answers you need.

Common Driving-Related Pains

Driving pain can affect various body parts, including your legs, back, and even your neck. These pains occur due to restricted movement while driving for long periods of time and maintaining a sustained posture, which may cause musculoskeletal aches. Here are some common driving-related pains:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Leg pain

In this post, we’ll describe each of these driving-related pains in detail. We’ll also go over some effective strategies to help you relieve pain from driving. Let’s begin with wrist and hand pain related to being on the road for extended periods: carpal tunnel.

Carpal Tunnel

The carpal tunnel is a space or “tunnel” in the wrist containing the median nerve and nine tendons. This space can sometimes become narrow and press on the median nerve, particularly during repetitive activities involving wrist movement. In other words, the nerve becomes pinched. Imagine being on the road for hours, holding on to the steering wheel, and repeatedly turning it with your wrist. This extended period of wrist movement poses a risk of aggravating the median nerve, resulting in severe pain.

Symptoms of carpal tunnel from driving include burning, numbness, or tingling in the thumb, the index finger, and middle fingers. In some cases, the symptoms might also affect the palm. If left untreated, the pain can increase and negatively impact your sleep or cause even the simplest tasks – such as holding a glass – to be unbearable. For this reason, Mayo Clinic suggests treating the symptoms as soon as they are noticed.

What Can You Do About It?

If you start experiencing symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, there are steps you can take immediately to minimize the pain. For example, you can take breaks occasionally, alternate hands on the steering wheel, and apply ice packs to help reduce inflammation. Wearing a wrist brace can also prevent problematic hand movements while driving.

If the symptoms persist or get worse, there are non-surgical and surgical steps you can take. Non-surgical steps include creating a splint for your wrist to stabilize it while you sleep and anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or cortisone injections.

Back Pain

Unlike sitting on a couch in your living room, the seating arrangement in a car is much more restrictive and can lead to severe back pain. Not to mention, car seats can be uncomfortable. Driving for extended periods poses a risk factor that can distort your posture.

While driving, you might also find yourself slouching or favoring one side of your body over another. In addition, the headrest to your car seat may not be appropriately positioned, exacerbating the issue. In any case, these circumstances can take a toll on your spine and back muscles.

What Can You Do About It?

Back pain from driving long distances is a condition that builds over time. For this reason, the first thing you can do is ensure you’re always seated in an upright position. Be sure to avoid bending over the steering wheel as much as you can while driving.

You can also use some form of lumbar support that fills in the space between the car seat and your lower back and enables you to sit properly. A lumbar cushion supports your lower back or lumbar region, supports the lower area of your spine, and can ease existing pain while you drive. Some car seats also have built-in, adjustable lumbar support, so taking advantage of this option might offer some immediate relief.

You can adjust your seat and headrest to a more comfortable position conducive to long hours sitting in the car. Additional things you can do include wearing comfortable shoes, using heated seating pads, or taking advantage of rest stops on long trips.

Neck Pain

Like back pain, neck pain from driving is common, even with drivers who use headrests. Neck pain is a result of poor posture while driving for extended periods. If left untreated, it can become an issue over time.

While neck pain results from postural inadequacies while driving, it can also occur when you navigate bumpy roads – even on shorter trips. The constant shaking motion affects the neck and shoulders, causing bone and muscle tension.

What Can You Do About It?

To avoid neck pain while driving, you should watch your head and sit upright with your spine vertical and rested against the back of the car seat. In addition, you can use your seat’s lumbar support and position your steering wheel just below your shoulder with your elbows bent. Properly using headrests can help reduce neck pain. Drivers should always place their heads in the middle of the headrest, not below or above.

You should also remember to relax your shoulders and avoid shrugging. In addition, ensuring the back of your knees don’t touch the seat and ensuring your hip-to-knee height is the same can go a long way in preventing neck pain. Taking breaks while driving for long distances will also go a long way. When fatigued, it’s best to stop and refresh at one of the many rest stops on the highway or at an eatery while driving around town.

Leg Pain

Sitting in a particular position for long periods while driving can also lead to leg pain. This pain, also known as Sciatica, can radiate from your lower back to your hips and legs.

Leg pain from driving can take various forms, including pain in the thigh, knee, or calves. These aches occur due to the pinching or compression of the nerves in the lower back, which can result from poor posture.

What Can You Do About It?

Like other posture-induced pains, you can prevent leg pain by maintaining a good sitting posture while driving. Always ensure that your seat is comfortable enough to reduce the pressure of sitting from your back and lower legs.

In addition, once you feel leg pain from driving, you should stop the car, step out, and walk around. This gives you a chance to move around and stretch at regular intervals, especially on long trips. And when you can’t stop the car, you can use a muscle ointment to relieve the pain. If the pain persists, even after stretching, you can use physiotherapy to relieve it. You can use strengthening and stretching exercises to target weak muscles and improve joint flexibility.

Recommendations to Relieve Pain From Driving

Whether it’s your back, wrists, neck, knees, or legs that experience pain after long periods of driving, there are common practices you can incorporate to ease or prevent soreness on the road. These pains are more common than you might think, and finding relief isn’t as difficult as it seems.

Here are five recommendations for preventing soreness on the road and ensuring comfortable and safe driving:

  1. Use treatments available at your fingertips, such as an ice pack or a wrist brace, when dealing with symptoms of carpal tunnel.
  2. Adjust your seat and find a position that makes you feel more comfortable.
  3. Always use a cushion if you’ll spend long periods on the road, particularly for lumbar support.
  4. Take breaks from driving and walk or stretch to add variety to your movement.
  5. Use the headrest properly, placing your head in the middle rather than at top or the bottom of the headrest.

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