‘Tis the season for fun in the sun and ROAD TRIPS! But unfortunately, I hear from people all the time that their aches and pains make traveling miserable, or worse yet, prevent them from taking their vacations at all. Have you noticed that you dread getting in the car? Here are my top 10 tips for making your travel more comfortable and getting you back to the carefree summer days that we all love so much.
1. Adjust the seat height. If you can control how high your seat is, it will be ideal to raise it enough so that your knees are not above your hips. Having your knees higher forces you into a bit of a slumped position and can cause excess strain on your knees and low back. It will be better if you can raise yourself up so that your knees are level or even lower than your hips.
2. Adjust the seat distance from the steering wheel. The best position as far as this is concerned is to be far enough away from the steering wheel that you aren’t scrunched, but not too far away that you have to reach with either your arms or legs. A soft bend in both your knees and your elbows is preferred.
(If you noticed that my seat should be higher, good catch!)
3. Use cruise control. If you can let the car take over part of the work, you won’t be stuck in a static position for an extended period of time. This allows you to make even minor adjustments in your posture that your body will thank you for later!
4. Don’t cross your legs. I know, this is a hard habit to break. Most of us cross our legs without even thinking about it and it feels completely unnatural to sit with both feet on the ground. But, especially if you are susceptible to getting stiff and sore in places like your low back, you’ll be better off trying to correct it. Even the seemingly small change of having one leg crossed over changes the alignment of our backs and hips and for extended periods of time can really add up to an unpleasant experience. It is best to have your legs uncrossed, about hip width apart, with both feet on the floor.
5. Prop up your seat. I can’t believe how poorly designed most car seats are from a ergonomic perspective. A lot of seats have a bucket seat design where the back edge of the seat is sloped lower than the front edge. This forces our bodies into a slumped posture and can put a lot of pressure on your low back. But, there’s an easy solution! Take something as simple as a towel and create your own wedge effect by placing the towel toward the back part of the seat to prop up just the back part of your bum (think sits bones and behind). This will help you achieve a more neutral pelvis and have a positive effect throughout the rest of your spine.
6. Use a lumbar support. We have normal curves in our spines which we want for things like shock absorption when we are out using and moving our bodies. Maintaining those neutral curves helps keep the tension on the attached muscles, ligaments, etc. in a balanced place too. The curve in our low backs goes in like a little mini arch and a lot of cars do not have great support for this area. Even if it does have a lumbar support feature, it may not be the right fit for you. We are all a little different in the amount of curve we have, and we don’t want to try to change what is naturally occurring in our backs with lumbar supports, just support the space that is there. So, I suggest again to use something as simple as a towel or rolled up sweatshirt to make a roll to place behind your back, just above your pelvis. This way, you can adjust the size of your support based on what is most comfortable for you.
7. Take frequent breaks. Even if you have the perfect set up in your car, our bodies still can get a little grumpy if we stay still for too long. Mini breaks along the way, even just to get out and walk around your car, can make a huge difference.
8. Drink lots of water. Not only will this keep your muscles and other tissues hydrated, it will also help you ensure you are following rule #7 by providing a nice excuse to stop and get out of the car as you run to the nearest restroom.
9. Hairstyle matters. No, this is not a joke. In proper alignment, our heads should sit over our shoulders. Being able to use the headrest and lean your head back can help keep this alignment in a comfortable way. If you have a hairstyle that prevents you from using the headrest (for me I usually have a messy bun right at the back of my head) or a big sunhat, chances are you are going to hold your head forward which will put a lot of tension through your neck and shoulders.
10. Move! I know it isn’t possible to always stop and get out of the car frequently if you are on a mission to get to your destination. And even though you might be trapped in the fairly small space of your car, it IS possible to move. Crank up the radio and have a dance party or maybe try some of these gentle stretches (make some modifications if you are the one actually driving though please!)
*Cat cow: Alternate between flexing and extending the spine, trying to make an even curve from your head to your tail.
*Spinal Rotation: Lengthen through your spine and then twist to the side. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then switch directions.
*Seated Figure 4 Stretch: Cross one ankle over the opposite knee. Keep your spine lengthened and lean forward, hinging at the hips. You should feel a stretch in your outer hip muscles.
It is amazing how some of these simple (and free!) things can be a complete game changer in making your ride more comfortable. I am heading to Pagosa Springs, CO this weekend with my husband to celebrate our TWO year anniversary and I know I’m going to be following my own advice so that I can enjoy our time without first having to work out all of the kinks from just getting there in the first place. Let me know what adventures you have planned this summer and if some of these tips help you! Happy travels!