Back Pain and Driving: Causes and Solutions

By Tim Wall, MS, ATC

How to Alleviate Back Pain and Driving Discomfort

If you’re experiencing back pain after driving, you’re not alone. Back pain from driving is a common complaint among many drivers, especially after long drives. This article aims to provide you with effective solutions to alleviate back pain while driving and make your journey more comfortable.  At JOI and JOI Rehab, we are here to help you live a pain free life!  If you have questions, please give us a call.

There is usually not a day when we don’t spend some time driving. Unfortunately, sitting in a car is just not the same as sitting in a chair. Back pain and driving have a positive correlation due to when a car is in motion the body is subject to different forces from accelerating and decelerating, movements side to side, and vibrations. These movements can all negatively impact a person with lumbar issues.

Understanding Back Pain During Driving

Back pain while driving can be attributed to various factors such as prolonged sitting, incorrect driving posture, and the impact of road conditions on the body.

Long hours of sitting can lead to muscle inactivity, causing stiffness and discomfort due to reduced blood flow and oxygen supply. This can cause lower back pain from driving. Many drivers often slouch or lean forward when driving, exerting unnecessary pressure on the spine, leading to back ache from driving.

Moreover, the constant vibrations from the vehicle and uneven road surfaces can strain the spine and surrounding muscles, contributing to the discomfort.

To counter these issues, it’s crucial to maintain a correct posture and take regular breaks during long drives to stretch your muscles and improve blood flow. Adjusting your vehicle’s seating and steering position can also help find the most comfortable posture for you. Implementing the best car lumbar support can also contribute to reducing back pain from driving.

One back issue that can be negatively impacted with driving position is spinal stenosis. This is a condition where the spinal canal becomes narrowed and leads to crowding and compression of the spinal nerves. The way you position your car seat can play a major role on if you have a good or bad back day.

Driving Posture

Driving Posture

If you want to learn more about the anatomy of the spine or back, please watch this video.

Creating a Comfortable Driving Environment

Simple ergonomic adjustments can significantly reduce back pain and driving discomfort. Here are some tips:

Using a Lumbar Support for Car: A lumbar support cushion for car can provide the much-needed support to your lower back, helping maintain the spine’s natural curve, reducing muscle strain, and alleviating back pain. Investing in the best car lumbar support is a wise move if your back hurts driving.  Should be adjusted to allow even pressure along your back. There should be no gaps or pressure points in the back area.

Optimizing Seat Position: Adjust your seat to ensure you’re at a comfortable distance from the pedals, with your hips slightly higher than your knees. This position helps distribute your weight evenly and reduces back strain.

Adjusting Steering Wheel Position: Position your steering wheel so that your arms are slightly bent and relaxed, preventing strain on your upper back and shoulders, thus reducing the back problems from driving. The steering wheel should be adjusted for both height and tilt, so it is about 10-12 inches from your chest and both your elbows are slightly bent.

Low Back Pain with Driving

Man with back pain after long car drive.

Correct Car Seat Position

  • Seated Cushion Length: The back of your knees should be about 1-2 inches from the front of the seat cushion.
  • Seat Forward Position: Move your seat forward until there is a slight bend in your knees and you can easily push the pedals with the whole foot.
  • Seated Cushion Angle: Tilt the seat cushion until your thighs have full support but without pressure at the back of the knees.
  • Seated Back Rest: Should support the complete length of the back while sitting upright. This should be slightly reclined at about 110-degree angle.
  • Headrest: The top of headrest should be even with the top of your head. The angle of the headrest should be just touching the back of your head with correct sitting posture.

Most modern cars have the seat and steering wheel functions to allow these adjustments. So, pay attention to your driving posture and make it a good back day.  For more information about the JOI Rehab Fast Track Program, read this article.

Additional Techniques for Back Pain Relief

There are other measures you can take to make your drives more comfortable:

Heated Seat Cushions: These provide warmth and gentle support to the lower back, helping to alleviate tension and promote relaxation. This can help if you suffer from lower back pain from driving.

Comfortable Shoes: Wearing shoes with good arch support and cushioning can help distribute weight evenly and reduce back strain. Avoid high heels or shoes with inadequate support. This can help reduce the back pain after driving.

Pain-Relieving Salve: A salve or analgesic cream can provide temporary relief from muscle soreness and inflammation.  Others use Voltaren gel or pain-relieving pads.  This is particularly helpful if you have back problems from driving.

Implementing these measures can help you manage and reduce back pain and driving discomfort effectively. Taking care of your back is vital for your overall well-being, and a pain-free journey is just a few adjustments away.

Image of hamstring stretch

Image of hamstring stretch

Take Frequent Breaks for Back Pain While Driving

For long journeys, consider the following strategies:

Regular Breaks: Schedule breaks every few hours to stretch your legs and back.  If you are on a long drive, it is so important to take frequent breaks to relieve back pain.  We recommend taking a break every two hours as needed.  During your break, it is important to get out of the car walk and do some stretches.  You can always put an ice pack in a cooler and ice your back during the trip as well.

Use Cruise Control: If available, this feature can minimize the need for repetitive foot movements, reducing strain on your back. This can help if your back hurts driving.

Maintain Proper Posture: Keep your back firmly against the seat and ensure your spine is aligned properly. Adjust the seat and lumbar support to provide adequate lower back support. This can help reduce back pain from driving.

These strategies can help minimize back pain after driving. However, if you have chronic back pain or underlying conditions, consult a healthcare professional before embarking on a long journey.

Importance of Hydration and Proper Lifting

Staying hydrated is vital when dealing with back pain. Drinking enough water helps prevent muscle tension and stiffness. Also, avoid heavy lifting before and after driving as it can strain your back muscles. This can help reduce lower back pain from driving.

If you need to lift heavy objects, use proper techniques to minimize strain. If back pain persists, consider using back pain patches for temporary relief. At JOI Online, we offer a variety of products designed to alleviate back pain and promote spinal health, including the best car lumbar support. Visit our website to explore our collection.


single knee to chest stretch

Single knee to chest stretch.

Conclusion and Useful Resources

Managing back pain and driving discomfort involves maintaining proper posture, making ergonomic adjustments, using the best car lumbar support, and taking regular breaks. Here’s a quick recap:

  • Adjust your seat and steering wheel for optimal posture.
  • Use lumbar support for car or a rolled-up towel for added back support.
  • Take breaks every 30 minutes to stretch and move around.
  • Perform exercises to strengthen your core and back muscles.

Related Articles: Lumbar spinal stenosis exercises and Lower Back Muscles and Low Back Pain.

Book an Appointment with The Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute Today!

If you are living with back pain, let us help you.  Our goal is to get you back to doing the activities you love pain free!  JOI Physicians continue to offer online new patient appointments. This is another option to make it more convenient to make new patient appointments with less phone hold times. Follow the link below to select your JOI MD and schedule online.

You can still call 904-JOI-2000 to make new patient JOI Physician Appointments if that is your preference.  You can now schedule and cancel follow up appointments with your JOI Physician on the JOI Patient Portal. 

To make appointments with JOI Rehab, please call 904-858-7045.

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