Do you remember the road trips from your childhood? Piling into the back of an old woodie station wagon with all your siblings and no regard to safety restraints would be the height of excitement. Your parents would drive half way across the country to see things like the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota or the place where you could drive through the middle of a tree. There would be quick bathroom stops and snacks would be doled out on an as needed basis. If you started fighting, your mom or dad would inevitably say something like, “Don’t make me come back there,” or “Don’t make me stop this car!” Those were the things memories were made of.

The holiday car ride was a joy that equaled vacation. You would bundle up against the cold and drive to grandma’s house where you were likely to get a dollar and hard candy. Cheeks would be pinched. A beloved uncle would mysteriously pull a penny from behind your ear. And you would laugh and run around the house until it was time for bed where you slept very soundly dreaming of sugar plumbs and visits from Santa Claus.

Then you grew up.

As an adult the car trip is an entirely different thing. You may still love adventure and visiting family but now it involves a lot more seat belts and you hear your own parents’ voices come out of your mouth when you shout commands into the back seat of the mini-van.

Sometimes long car rides can lead to pain as well. In spite of increased attention to ergonomics in modern cars back aches don’t take long to develop, junk food along the way leads to indigestion, muscles get tight, legs feel achy, and adjusting to the cold every time you get in or out of the car can be frustrating. Above all else, road trips can be stressful. Let’s take a closer look at the ways some of these individual situations cause pain while driving or riding in the car.

Junk food

Everyone knows that gas station hot dogs and liters of sugary sodas aren’t good for us but that doesn’t stop us from consuming them, especially while on a long road trip. People travel thousands of miles for the holidays and stopping at fast food restaurants seems like the best idea when you just want to get wherever you’re going in the fastest way possible.

While junk food doesn’t make you feel good and can cause indigestion, did you know it could also cause other forms of pain? If you eat well most of the time but suddenly introduce your body to food of the junk variety your systems could reject it in curious ways. A healthy diet for a healthy person keeps the body’s insulin levels regulated naturally. When you add a sudden influx of unhealthy food the body goes into overtime producing insulin that can cause inflammation, aches, and pain. Imagine what junk food does to a person over an extended period of time.

Tight muscles

You are pretty lucky if your holiday car ride is only across town. When you need to drive ten or twelve hours to get to your final destination you are likely to push through which means you’re sitting in a fairly unnatural position for far too long. Drivers experience tightness in the muscles in their back, legs, and arms from keeping them in the same general spot the whole time. Passengers also experience pain but may have an opportunity to stretch out or sleep during the trip.

Cold

You are equally as lucky if your travels for the holidays take you to warm destinations like southern Arizona or sunny California. However, most of the country is awfully cold this time of year and each time you stop along the way you’re exposing yourself to bitter temperatures. It may take some time for the car to warm back up again. The weather is well-known for being a primary culprit in exacerbating joint pain. And let’s be honest, if you’re just running into a McDonald’s or a gas station you aren’t likely to bundle up entirely to protect yourself against the cold. Exposure can also cause your pain in your fingers or toes which, if not handled properly, can create lasting damage.

Stress

With any luck your relationship with your family is wonderful that you don’t dread the holiday dinner. That doesn’t mean there won’t be stress along the way though. Traffic can be exceptionally stressful and instances of passenger anxiety are pretty common which, of course, causes more stress for the driver. If you are unlucky enough to have strained relationships with people you only see once a year, your stress level could elevate when you get closer to your destination. Stress is a known cause of pain including tense muscles, headaches, and clenching of the jaw.

Prepare for your road trip

Before you get in the car it is a good idea to prepare some things to avoid pain. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Pack healthy snacks and plenty of water so you don’t have to rely on junk food
  2. Be sure to have warm coats and accessories available to avoid exposure to extreme cold
  3. When packing the car, be sure to lift the luggage correctly to avoid strains
  4. Bring a lumbar support pillow to help take pressure off your lower back and adjust your seat so you are comfortable before you leave your driveway

How to avoid pain while in the car

Of course, preparing for the trip is only part of the battle. Here are more ideas to avoid pain while on the road:

  1. Stretch any chance you get at rest stops, gas stations, restaurants, or any break along the way
  2. Switch driving responsibilities as often as possible to give everyone in the car a chance to relax
  3. Drive with both hands on the wheel because it is not only safe but it will also keep your spine from rotating uncomfortably
  4. Pay attention to your posture at all times and do regular neck exercises to lengthen your spine

Rather than a source of stress and pain your car trips should be the beginning of an exciting adventure or a wonderful time with family and friends. Use these tips to make sure you stay safe and pain free.

How have you avoided pain on long car trips?

Image by Cristi Breban via Flickr

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