Long Distance Driving Neck Pain

Posted by Lucy Jones on

There are many ways driving long distances can induce neck pain. Spending hours behind the wheel can be taxing, and when you’re immobile for extended periods of time while being jostled by the road, your body can begin to hurt in various ways.  

Of course, some people are more susceptible to this form of neck pain than others. For those who drive as part of their career – namely rideshare drivers, truckers, and delivery drivers – the likelihood of developing temporary or persistent neck pain is quite high. If you fall into one of these groups, it’s important to take whatever steps you can to alleviate and prevent this pain.

In most cases, there are changes you can make to your posture and vehicle interior that can help with the issue of neck pain. However, addressing the localized pain that already exists can require treatments, such as cervical traction, to stretch and strengthen the area.

Read more about what a cervical traction device is along with cervical traction benefits in our related blog articles.

How Driving Can Cause Neck Pain

Many people who experience neck pain that results from driving are often surprised when they first experience it. In many cases, people have been driving for years and have never experienced an issue, so why do they suddenly have pain in their neck?

Each case is different, but there are several common neck pain triggers that can be traced back to driving. With some relatively minor adjustments, it’s possible to reduce the likelihood of experiencing neck pain, but to truly keep the pain at bay you must regularly stretch and strengthen the neck area.

Constant Vibration

Consider what happens when you drive. When you’re on the road, you might feel insulated from outside danger, but that perception of safety is just the result of your car’s ability to absorb all of the impact. Sitting in the cab, it’s inevitable that some of those vibrations will be transferred to you.

Whenever you are driving over a bump or crack, your shock absorbers are hopefully adjusting the wheel’s height so that you experience a smooth ride. However – in older cars especially – it’s common to experience all of the bumps in the road. This can be bad for your neck, and all of the jostling can result in pain.

  • Bumps and cracks in the road can shake your vehicle’s cab, which can lead to neck pain

Immobility

While seats are intended to be comfortable, being stuck in a single position for an extended period of time will eventually cause discomfort, regardless of the chair design. Over time, the disks and vertebrae in your spine will experience strain, which can directly affect your neck area.

Many vehicle seats also fail to provide lumbar support. If you don’t have support for the lower half of your spine, the effects can be felt all the way up to your neck.

  • Sitting still for extended periods of time can strain your vertebrae and spinal discs
  • Many car seats fail to provide lumbar support, which can have an adverse effect on your neck

Car Seat Angle

When your car seat is positioned at a comfortable, relaxed angle, there is a chance that you’re sitting too far back, which is forcing you to strain your neck. Think about the following chain of events. When you tip your seat back, your head also is forced upwards. To compensate for this new angle and to provide appropriate road vision, you then need to lift your head at least 20 degrees. This can put a lot of strain on your neck, especially if you’re driving like this for a long time.

  • Car seats which are tilted too far back force you to bend your neck to see the road correctly
  • Tilting your neck in this way is demanding and can lead to serious pain and soreness

How to Prevent Neck Pain Related to Driving

There are several ways to prevent neck pain that could arise while you’re driving. Some are obvious, but others are a little bit more nuanced. Because every case is slightly unique, you might have to try several different methods – or combine a few – in order to get the pain relief you so desire.

If you find that you still experience neck pain once you’ve left the vehicle, cervical traction devices like the Neck Hammock can provide an immediate, healthy form of chronic neck pain relief.  

Fix Your Posture

Most drivers like to slump in their car seat. However, when drivers sit in this position they inadvertently bend their spine in unnatural ways. Over time, holding your body in a sustained, uncomfortable position during long drives and/or prolonged periods of time can cause you to strain your neck which leads to severe neck pain.  

You don’t have to sit at a 90-degree angle, but attempt to make a mental note about keeping your stomach muscles tight and back flat against the chair as part of your poor posture exercises. This way, your head will often follow suit, and you won’t hurt yourself by holding an uncomfortable position.

  • Poor posture can strain your entire body, and can lead to serious pain in your neck

Take Breaks

If your job requires you to drive long distances, it’s important to plan out breaks for yourself. Driving for hours on end can lead to numerous problems beyond neck pain and can become dangerous if fatigue is allowed to settle in. Almost all problems that relate to driving and neck pain have to do with the amount of time a driver has remained in an uncomfortable position. Taking breaks allows your body to reset and relax before returning to the road.

  • Schedule timed breaks for yourself
  • Driving for sustained periods of time can be taxing on the entire body, and often manifests as intense pain in the neck

Relax

Driving can be stressful. Not everyone on the road is paying attention, and often it’s the drivers who are that end up suffering the consequences

If you’re constantly gripping the steering while, yelling at careless drivers, and honking your horn, that level of stress will cause your body to tense up. When your body tenses up, your muscles tire out rather quickly, which can result in pain in your neck. Because we have our arms lifted to the steering wheel, the stress placed on our shoulders and neck can be serious, especially if we’re stressed out.  

  • Try to relax while driving on the road
  • Stress causes your muscles to tense which can lead to intense neck pain

Who are the Most Vulnerable Drivers?

Many drivers simply use their car to go on grocery runs and to get to and from work. This doesn’t equate to many hours behind the wheel (unless you live in Los Angeles). Neck pain as a result of driving often comes with hours spent on the highway, so there are certain jobs and occupations that are more susceptible than others.

Cabbies/Rideshare Drivers

When people think about long-distance driving, they imagine driving across state lines, or truckers who must traverse the entire country in a matter of days. However, cabbies and rideshare drivers might put in a similar amount of time behind the wheel while driving in routes around a city.

While the open road can offer smooth, flat, easy-to-ride pavement, cities are often far more unpredictable and stress inducing. From neighborhood to neighborhood, the road conditions might change. Smooth pavement gives way to cracks and gravel, which may then lead to a series of tall hills. Cabbies and rideshare drivers find themselves constantly turning their heads, absorbing impact, and dealing with the chaos of city driving. This can lead to serious neck pain as a result of both stress and turbulence.

Truckers

Even if the open road has smooth pavement – and it often doesn’t – truck drivers, by definition, have to spend days on end driving across the country. Many trucks even have mattresses in the back which offers a cheap rest option when fatigue sets in.

All of this time spent behind the wheel can be incredibly taxing on the body. Immobility is one of the leading common causes of neck pain, and truck drivers typically spend hours on end staring straight ahead. Because of the extended amount of time they spend behind the wheel, it’s important that truck drivers take as many breaks as possible without impairing their job performance.

Addressing Neck Pain Related to Driving

If you’re someone who experiences frequent neck pain related to driving, it’s all too possible that you have irritated the area to a point that requires some form of therapy. However, there are many ways to go about this process that do not require a trip to the doctor.

Physical therapists can help you massage the area, but it’s possible, with the use of cervical traction devices, to ease the built-up tension from your home. The benefits of cervical traction go beyond relieving neck pain – they improve mobility in the region, range of motion, and promote relaxation, all of which lead to a healthier, happier driving experience.

The Cervical Spine

The cervical spine makes up the bones in your neck. They are dense, tightly packed against one another, and do the hard work of holding your head in place. They are incredibly important to all of the functions of your body, and need to be taken care of in as many ways as possible.

When you drive for extended periods of time and experience neck pain, often what you are experiencing is pain in the areas around the cervical spine. By stretching the area and allowing the vertebrae to become uncompacted, you can increase mobility in the area and massage the muscles that have tightened up.

Cervical Traction Devices

Cervical traction devices, like Neck Hammock, work by gently pulling the head away from the neck. When they do this, they create expansion between the vertebrae in the cervical spine and increase both range of motion and mobility. Much of the tension that is derived from driving long distances relates back to immobility, and cervical traction devices work to stretch out areas that have remained stationary.

While many cervical traction devices are large and bulky, Neck Hammock has created a system that is portable, comfortable, and compact. It can be brought with you anywhere, and if you’re someone who drives a lot for work, that means you can relieve neck pain while on the road.

The Neck Hammock cups the back of the neck and, using a cushioned pad, gently pulls on the head. Unlike devices which wrap around the entire neck and can make users feel trapped, Neck Hammock is easy to disengage from – all you have to do is sit up if you ever feel uncomfortable.  

Benefits of Cervical Traction

Cervical traction is often recommended by physical therapists because of the immediate relief it provides as well as the long-term benefits to the cervical spine. By decreasing the force of compression on the neck, which is achieved by gently pulling on the head, cervical traction opens up the spaces between vertebrae and allows both neck muscles and joints to stretch.  

  • Improve both mobility and range of motion in the neck area
  • Address the underlying causes of neck pain
  • Stretch out muscles and work joints into healthy shape
  • Can be done in the comfort of your own home

Summary

If you find yourself experiencing neck pain after long hours of driving, there are many possible underlying causes. However, regardless of the cause, one of the best possible remedies is cervical traction and using devices like the Neck Hammock. Stretching the cervical spine opens the spaces between vertebrae, thereby increasing flexibility, range of motion, and relieving soreness and pain.

It’s important to remember that every case of neck pain is different. All of our bodies respond to stimuli in different ways, so if you’ve been dealing with chronic neck pain from driving long distances, you may have to tinker with different strategies for resolving the issue. However, in the majority of cases, the pain can be made to go away. Coupled with healthy lifestyle choices, it’s possible to not only relieve pain, but to fortify the neck area and protect yourself from further injuries.

Sources

  1. JOSPT: “Exercise Only, Exercise With Mechanical Traction, or Exercise With Over-Door Traction for Patients With Cervical Radiculopathy, With or Without Consideration of Status on a Previously Described Subgrouping Rule: A Randomized Clinical Trial”, https://www.jospt.org/doi/full/10.2519/jospt.2014.5065
  2. OSPT: “Academy of Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Platform Presentations (Abstracts OPL1–OPL64)”, https://www.jospt.org/doi/full/10.2519/jospt.2019.49.1.CSM1
  3. NCBI: “Intermittent Cervical Traction for Treating Neck Pain: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27792118