Dr. Allan Horowitz, published newspaper article, The Toronto Star, Copyright August 16, 1988

So you’ve polished the car, put air in the tires, tied the roof rack on, and filled the radiator with coolant. The maps are tucked into your sun visor, your traveler’s cheques are tucked inside your sock. You plan to do about 600 miles a day so you can get there in two days, holiday for three, drive home, and be back at work by Monday.

This might sound like a good plan except for one thing: Monday morning will probably be spent in your chiropractor’s office. Back pain affects all age groups, but no one is hit harder and more often than the middle-aged “family man” who “does something dumb.” And what can be “dumber” than sitting in a car for 12 hours a day, two days in a row, resting for three days, then doing the same thing again. This is something I wouldn’t recommend for even the healthiest backs, let alone for those with a history of back problems.

We all know a back can feel sore and stiff after sitting for a long time without stretching. We also know most cars have seats that were designed for economy and style, rather than for comfort. What is the answer?

Padded seats

            When buying a new car pay as much attention to the type of seat as you do to the colour of the body side moulding.

  • Does it have a lumbar support, which is usually an adjustable support that should fit snugly in the small of your back?
  • Is there enough room for your legs to bend and move without hitting the steering wheel, dash, console or door panel?
  • Is the seat comfortably padded and is it made of a material that allows some circulation and therefore cooling?

For back support and comfort, European cars have generally been recognized as being superior. The Japanese car manufacturers made note of this fault, and corrected it. Many Japanese cars now have excellent seats, though they are still slightly flimsy for large adults.

American cars are just now being designed with backs in mind and only on the more expensive models. Many times you must order a package that has a lumbar support as one item in a list of other “essentials” such as racing stripes, fog lights, spoked wheels, and a stereo with 14 speakers. It is highly recommended that you spend the money and get whatever they offer. If they don’t offer anything, take your business elsewhere.

The seats should support your full back and come up high enough to support your head and neck in case of an accident. They should be fully adjustable, so you can tilt, lift, slide and swing to your heart’s content on a long trip (but never when driving).

Long drives

            But since most people can’t afford to buy a new car, I suggest you get your hands on a pillow, sweater, jacket, blanket, or something else that you can tuck behind your back to lessen the stress on your muscles during your long drive. There are many back supports on the market and several will do the job nicely in your car. Any large pharmacy will stock these items for between $20 and $90.

Your car seat should be as close to the front as possible, while still allowing you enough comfort to drive safely. Bringing the car seat forward forces the knees to bend and this in turn alleviates much of the stress on the lower spine. One should never drive a car for more than 90 minutes without stopping to stretch. A 60 second stretch is all that is necessary to increase lower body circulation, stretch the lower back muscles and relieve boredom. When you stop for gas, get out and do some simple stretching. If gas is not needed, but stretching is, find a safe place to pull over, get out, touch your toes a few times, and reach up and side to side. Then jog on the spot for 10 seconds, pull your knees up to your chest, and shake your arms and legs for a few seconds.

All this will not delay your arrival time more than a few minutes, but should ensure that you arrive feeling good rather than stiff and sore.