PRI Tips For The Car

What goes hand-in-hand with summer? Summer road trips! This can mean many hours in the car resulting in pretty significant pain. In order to help quell this, try to keep in mind the following helpful hints. A lot of these will be helpful for your daily commute too!

1) Keep your knees at hip height or higher as well as pointed straight ahead. Keeping your knees high helps to promote a rounded lower back. This can be adjusted by lowering your seat height (available in most cars) or by bringing your seat closer to the steering wheel. Keeping your knees pointed straight forward (versus letting your left leg roll out to the side and resting on the door) will help to keep your hips from rotating while in a poor position. This is especially important if you have hip/buttock/SI/sciatic/piriformis pain!

2) Reduce your lumbar support. In a PRI program, we want to allow the lumbar spine to get out of its overly-extended position and into a more neutral state. This means taking away the lumbar support in your car. Not everyone can do this cold-turkey. Some people need to reduce this slowly. Also, if you’re going to be driving for over an hour, know it’s ok to change your lumbar support as time goes on. The lumbar spine was not meant to be static for more than 20 minutes. Small changes to the lumbar support in your car seat effectively lets your lumbar spine change positions and stave off pain and stiffness. Just keep your lumbar support to a minimum and always return to the lowest amount you can tolerate when you are finished with your drive. That way you’re set up in the correct position when you next get in the car. 

3) Change your headrest if needed. A lot of cars now come with an inclined headrest. This helps to reduce the amount of brain and neck trauma in a car accident, but can be irritating when driving. As the upper portion of the head rest comes forward, we will assume a forward head posture to keep our head from bumping against it. Ladies, we also do this when we wear our hair in a bun or ponytail so try to avoid these hairstyles when driving long distances. To fix this, some headrests can change the amount of inclination. For those that can’t, raise the headrest as much as possible. If this is really irritating to you, try calling your dealership to see if alternate headrests exist for your vehicle. DO NOT DRIVE WITHOUT A HEADREST!

4) Change the inclination of your back rest. Your seat back needs to be in whatever position necessarily to allow your back from your bra-line and below to be resting on the back of the seat. Everything above this should be away from it. If your seat is too reclined, you will not get curvature in your upper back and you will bring your head far forward in order to see the road in front of you as your upper back rests on the chair back. If you seat is too inclined, your entire spine will be straight. 

5) Take breaks. Again, our bodies are not meant to be in any one position for more than 20-30 minutes at a time. You can change your lumbar support and buy yourself some time, but try to take frequent breaks where you can get out of the car and walk around. This lets you mobilize every muscle and joint instead of just your lumbar joints. 

6) Look around. Obviously, you need to be safe while you drive and keep your eyes on the road, but staring at the car in front of you for hours at a time essentially puts the body and its muscles into “auto-pilot” (har har har). If you simply glance around with your eyes as you drive, it helps to keep your body and neurological system from locking into a particular pattern.

Happy vacationing!

Written by Lesley Callaham, MPT, PRC May 15, 2017