The summer travel season is here and many of us are planning on taking family vacations via cars. This may just be to the beach, or perhaps a longer trek to visit family many states away.
I have written in the past about the dangers of sustained postures, especially sitting, and the negative effects on the muscles of the neck and back. There is, perhaps, no more stressful sustained posture than sitting in a car, particularly if you are the driver. Driving today is inherently challenging with more traffic volume, more aggressive driving, and frequent back-ups due to accidents and construction. Another factor of which few people are aware, is the effect of vibration on the body. Any time we are exposed to vibration, muscles all over the body can become tense.
There is vibration in every vehicle no matter how smooth riding it may seem. This muscle tension is most often felt in the neck and back, and is one of the leading reasons that people visit a physical therapist for treatment. The ironic thing about this is that the remedy for the muscle tension is extremely simple. Travelling in a car as either driver or passenger also gives you the opportunity to take steps to minimize the effects of the sustained sitting. Contrast this with air travel where you are confined to the environment of the airplane and thus, much more limited in taking steps to get relief from the sitting.
I just recently made a driving trip to and from Boston.
I was fortunate to have my brother and father with me, so we had plenty of drivers available to take turns should one of us get fatigued. Despite the fact that we all took turns, we made several stops during the six and a half hours it took to negotiate the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and Connecticut Thruway, which, by the way, seem to get longer every time I make that trip.
As we pulled into one of these rest areas, I noticed a woman performing a series of stretching exercises right next to her car. It was impressive, because she went through a collection of no more than five or six stretches for both the upper and lower body. It took just a few minutes. She actually had a smile on her face when she got back into the car! To me, as a physical therapist, I knew full well why she was smiling. She felt better! Very simply, she performed exercises which relieved muscle tension that was building in her shoulders, neck, back and legs. I think we call all identify with feelings of stiffness in various areas after sitting in a car for long periods. No one wants to arrive at their destination in pain or stiff. That is surely no way to start a vacation.
Here is my “Rest Stop Regimen” of stretching that can be done easily and quickly. Hold each of the stretch positions for 10 seconds and do 2 of each.
1. As soon as you get out of the car, put your hands on your waist and gently bend backward, straightening your spine.
2. Still standing, clasp your hands behind your back and lift the arms, pinching the shoulder blades together.
3. Now, hold your hands together over head and lean the arms as far as you can to the right and then, to the left.
4. Hold onto the side of your car and slowly squat down, letting your head bend forward until you feel a stretch in your spine from the neck down to the low back.
5. Lean on the side of the car with one leg behind and the other leg placed forward. Bend the forward knee until a stretch is felt in the calf of the rear leg.
6. Clasp your hands together in front of you and reach as far forward as you can, until you feel your shoulder blades pulling apart and stretching.
This little program should take no more than 2 minutes. I think that is a good trade-off for arriving at your destination feeling good. Just think of the national trend that could result from this. At rest stops all over the country, travelers will be stretching in masses. Maybe that would ease “tension” on the road and make for happier travels!