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Sitting & Stretching Tips for Long Drives

Long Trip

Aug 14, 2022

Submitted by:
Christopher Schmidt
Kessler Rehabilitation Insititute West Caldwell
771 Bloomfield Avenue, West Caldwell

How to drive away aches and pains on your summer road trip or any long drive

Ah! Summer vacation.

Ugh! Summer vacation driving.

Destination driving vacations are a staple of American culture. But long hours spent crammed into a car can wreak havoc on your body before vacation even begins.

As the miles go by, an aching back, a crick in your neck or tense shoulders can put the brakes on feeling good by the time you arrive.

If you're shaking your head in agreement (or dread!), relax.

We’ve mapped out some quick tips to make your road trip more comfortable.

Plan stop-and-stretch breaks

You planned out your vacation, right? So it makes sense to plan breaks from the slog of driving or sitting for hours on end.

Stop hourly or every hour and a half – even if it’s just for five minutes. Park away from entrances to rest stops and eating places to get in some light walking. Before climbing back into the car, stretch your hamstrings.

illustration showing how to do a hamstring stretch

Focus on your posture

Don't slouch. Use a rolled-up towel or foam roller and place it at your lumbar area (low back) between you and the seat for more comfort.

If you can spare a pool noodle, get creative and cut it in half. One for you and one for your passenger – two birds, one stone.

Set your car seat properly

This might sound trivial, but adjusting your seat reduces excess strain on the shoulders and neck. Here's how:

  • Sit all the way back in your seat.
  • Extend your forearm over the steering wheel.
  • The wheel should be at about your wrist when positioned correctly.

Pay attention when unloading the car

When you finally arrive and begin unpacking, practice safe lifting, especially with items that have been unloaded on the ground.

  • Don’t bend forward. Bend your hips and knees, like you’re doing a squat to pick up bulky items.
  • Keep luggage and bulky items close to your body/mid-section, then straighten to lift.
  • Distribute the weight evenly between both hands/arms to decrease stress on your neck, shoulders and back.
  • Don't overdo it! An extra trip back to the car can prevent injury.

illustration showing how to lift safely

Bonus safety tips for driving!

While driving, don’t use mobile devices. The distraction of calls and texts isn't worth an accident.

If it is music you're craving, let one of your passengers play DJ to keep the tunes rolling while you roll along.

Stay alert. Roll down the windows now and then, even with the AC on, to get some fresh air and a breeze.

Safe driving, and enjoy your road trip or well-deserved vacation!

We’ll leave you with this parting line from Clark Griswold in the American classic National Lampoon’s Vacation. “Why aren't we flying? Because getting there is half the fun. You know that!”

By: Brett Sanders, M.S., OTR/L, CEAS, regional manager for Select Medical’s WorkStrategies Program. Brett is the ergonomics product manager and account manager for American Airlines. He has been an occupational therapist for more than 25 years specializing in reducing employers’ workers’ compensation injuries. WorkStrategies is a product of Select Medical’s Outpatient Division family of brands.

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