How to Take a Road Trip – Minus the Spine Pain

Leave back pain and spine issues in the dust when you hit the road this summer.

WITH PARTS OF THE U.S. still under various forms of public restriction during the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans are forgoing air, boat or train travel plans and hitting the open road. Indeed, motor home sales and rentals are on the rise throughout much of the country, with people still wanting to get away, but hoping to maintain physical distances so as not to contract or spread illness. Though traveling the nation via highway may reduce some risks when it comes to virus transmission, it poses others – and one of them relates to back pain and your spine health. The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to make your road-tripping summer one to remember, while leaving back pain or spine issues in the dust.

Pack up properly. The upside of a road trip is that you can travel with all the essentials and comforts of home that your vehicle can fit – no TSA-compliant travel-sized items required. With any upside, there is, of course, a downside. In this case, it’s the propensity for people to overpack because space allows it. While that may seem fine on the surface, it’s important to consider who will be lugging all the gear – transporting it to the car or motorhome from the house, and lifting it in and out of wherever it will be stored. You and your traveling companions can help save each other from a world of back pain by sharing the task of loading and unloading, – and making sure you do it properly. Whenever lifting items, always do so from the knees – not hinged at the hips – so that your legs are doing the work, rather than your spine. Also, try to minimize the risk for everyone involved by bringing along only what you need.

Don’t sit on it. Especially for road trips that will require driving for long stretches hours at a time, be sure that you’re seated comfortably – either as a driver or a passenger. Start by ensuring that you haven’t packed bulky items in a back pocket that you’ll be sitting on for several hours at a time. Leave wallets, keys and other large items in another location, so you can be seated properly and symmetrically in your vehicle. Also, this is a critical time to be focused on your posture. Not slouching or slumping and sitting up straight can help relieve considerable pressure on your spine.

Brake for breaks. Sometimes, it can be tough to tell you’ve invited back pain to your travel party until you try to unfold yourself from a seated position after several hours of sitting. Back pain can be sneaky that way. But anyone who has sat in the same spot for hours on end can attest: Your spine will scream at you the first chance it gets. So, prevent it from protesting by including frequent “Stop and Stretch” breaks into your driving itinerary. Once you’ve arrived at a safe place to stop and park, get out of the car, walk around a bit, drink water (a hydrated spine is a happier spine), and do some gentle stretches. Incorporating frequent breaks into your driving schedule can help ensure you get to where you’re going and back home again without bringing significant back pain.[ 

Share the load. If you’re traveling with adult companions, be sure to evenly distribute the driving, packing and loading/unloading responsibilities. Tasking all of the duties to one person puts them at higher risk for injury and back pain. So switch off driving, and share the loading and unloading of the vehicle. Of course, involving kids in safe and age-appropriate tasks is also a fun way to ease the burden while simultaneously engaging them in the travel process. Just be sure they know the rules for safe lifting/handling of heavy items applies to them too.

Though this summer’s travel plans may not look like you imagined they’d look earlier in the year, they can still be fun and safe for the whole family. Road trips are a fantastic way to see and experience the country, and with a bit of planning, you can also ensure that back pain and spine issues don’t join you for the already-memorable-enough ride.

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