My back hurts, stupid car.
July 21, 2006 8:32 PM   Subscribe

How can I reduce back pain while driving?

I currently have a Pontiac Vibe, 2005, as my vehicle. I drive about 80 miles roundtrip 2-3 times a week in this car.

After the trips, my back has pain in the mid-lower area. This particular vehicle does not have adjustable lumbar.

For a vehicle in this class, can anyone make recommendations on how to alleviate back pain? Is there a specially designed car seat heating pad, additional lumbar support, or something I can do? Is there an option to just change my seats out in the front, and where would I have something like that done at?

As it stands, I looked into getting a new vehicle. But... I have a 3.9% interest rate on this, which is almost unheard of right now, and 4 years to go, at 353 a month. Anything new I buy has been looking at 450-500 a month, although for a higher class of car.
posted by benjh to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Don't think of it as a car problem. Are you doing any exercise? You need to be doing something for your abs and some stretching to offset all that time spent behind the wheel.
posted by zadcat at 9:04 PM on July 21, 2006

I spend a lot of time driving in my car due to my job. I was having horrific back pain as a result. Last holiday season I found a fantastic little "back pillow" of sorts. It is actually made out of what appears to be a really firm "memory foam", with a strap that wraps around the seat to keep it in place. The down side of it is this: in hotter weather it is rather soft, colder weather more firm (my preference, seems to give more support). It acts kind of like a make-shift lumbar support. I have it adjusted to it sits right at the lowest part of my back when I am sitting. It has made a huge difference in my driving comfort, but has not eliminated it entirely. Best wishes to you and thanks for asking the question, I am interested in any other suggestions.
posted by illek at 9:23 PM on July 21, 2006

I don't see why it shouldn't be addressed as a car problem. My first car, which lasted me through high school and three years of college, was an old Toyota Corolla. It was an awesome car in that it was unfailingly reliable and quite nimble, but I'm 6'5" and thickly built. I could not drive that car for more than an hour without ridiculous pain in my left knee and tolerable pain in my back and neck due to my contorted fit between the wheel and the too-small seat. I exercise at least an hour a day and play sports recreationally, so it wasn't a question of stretching or working on my body.

Last summer I bought a Volvo 940 and my attitude towards driving has completely changed. The seat is huge, enveloping, and perfectly cushioned with adjustable lumbar support and a seat heater. I've made eight hour trips in my new car and it's like driving a living room - I feel like I'm sitting in a recliner.

If you can't get some sort of back support (I think I'm linking to the exact product that illek talked about) or an entirely new seat, it seems like a new car is a good idea. The discomfort and clown car feel of driving the Toyota was my primary motivation for getting rid of it.
I've felt your pain.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 9:27 PM on July 21, 2006

Go to a drug store that sells surgical supplies and rehab equipment, they are sort of a specialty type of pharmacy and often dedicated just to that. There you will find a selection of orthopedically designed back supports. The people there can probably help you find the best one for you, but it should have a curve that protrudes in your lumbar area. Also, concentrate on sitting up straight in the car.

You can also explore exercises to strengthen your core, such as bent knee crunches (with your lower back pushed into the floor).
posted by caddis at 9:42 PM on July 21, 2006

For a few hundred to several hundred bucks (much, much less than the cost of trading cars) you could put in a custom sport seat, with fit, adjustability, and features galore. This is pretty much a "bolt on" replacement for your factory seats, that, in the most flexible designs, can transfer with you, from car to car with perhaps only a change of mounting brackets, or adapters. Just hang on to your stock seat, and swap it back in when you trade, taking "your" seat with you.

Heck, cowboys used to take their saddle from one horse to another, and it worked liked a charm for them...

It's also worth looking at the tires you're running, their inflation pressures, etc. You can spend a little more on "comfort tires" especially for the front end, the next time it's time for new rubber, with good results. "Comfort" tire lines have carcasses that are developed to pass less ride shock and noise through to the vehicle suspension, at the cost of somewhat faster wear, and slightly greater tread roll. But a Vibe is no sports car, and the difference in wear on you could be quite noticeable.
posted by paulsc at 9:43 PM on July 21, 2006

Fold up a towel and stick it behind your lower back. I used to commute 120 miles (each way - Sacramento to Mountain View CA back in the Dot Com Days) to work in a 1994 Chevy Cavalier and the towel trick helped me out a lot.

I now have a 1994 Ford Explorer and the fully adjustable seats make things a lot better. No lower back pain at all. We just came back from a 5,000 mile trip too.

Give the folded towel bit a try. It sure helped me out!
posted by drstein at 9:44 PM on July 21, 2006

remove your wallet from your back pocket while driving.
posted by brandz at 9:51 PM on July 21, 2006

You can get lumbar support pillows all over the place these days...I ordered mine from Target, but you can get them at Relax the Back stores, Brookstone, etc.
posted by tastybrains at 10:16 PM on July 21, 2006

Everybody here has hit the good stuff already. I've had back trouble on and off over the years, and about 8 years ago my doc sent me to a sports medicine physical therapist. He gave me a set of stretching and back-strengthening exercises that really help, and only take a few minutes a day to do. This page has some of the exercises that I use. You also might consider stopping about half way through your trip and stretching, as this helps to maintain mobility.

Secondly, if you carry your wallet in your back pocket, get it out of there. I found that it twisted my spine just enough to make a difference.

Finally, you might have lousy seats in your car, but like most everything else they're fixable. Does the Vibe have power adjustable seats? If not, it might be fairly easy to change them out. There are aftermarket seat manufacturers out there (Recaro comes to mind). You might even check out seats from a Toyota Matrix, since I believe that's a different version of the same car, and the seats might have an adjustable lumbar.
posted by SteveInMaine at 8:28 AM on July 22, 2006

You don't necesarily have to shell out for a new seat right away. I discovered on a long drive that if I placed a book ON my seat, instead of behind my back, it kept me from sinking into the seat and rounding my spine. Of course, the book wasn't comfortable, but I've made do with a shirt stuffed into the crevice where the seat and the back support meet, and it actually works quite well, because you can put more support where you need it. With a pillow, you can't reshape at as well, unless you go for one of the memory foam things.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 2:29 PM on July 22, 2006

I agree with all the good advice given above. The one thing that hasn't been mentioned but should be is *tension*.

Are you tense when you drive? If it's a stressful drive or you're on your way to a stressful appointment, muscles can tighten up and you eventually get a painful result.

Yoga and other stretching exercises are great to get you to be more aware of tension and then you can focus on deliberately relaxing muscle groups in the back, neck and shoulders.
posted by storybored at 8:35 PM on July 22, 2006

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