The average American spends just shy of half an hour commuting to work and another half an hour headed home, five days a week.
If this sounds like you, that means you’re spending about 5 hours a week in your car, on a bus or on a train, and if you have low back pain or neck pain then you know that time can be absolute torture.
Sitting for extended periods of time is one of the worst things you can do if you’re having spine problems: it turns off your postural muscles and makes you rely on passive structures that can break down more easily. It can encourage bad habits like text neck and other poor postural positions that exacerbate existing weaknesses.
The good news is that there are exercises that you can easily do to counter these negative effects. Here are a few of our favorites
- When you’re on the bus or subway, choose to stand instead of sitting. Remaining vertical on a moving vehicle is roughly the same as using a balance board: it helps you practice stability and strengthens your leg muscles and the muscles that support an upright posture.
- If you’re driving, make use of the headrest that is built into your seat. Far too many drivers hunch over the steering wheel, adding stress to the shoulder and neck muscles. By resting your head lightly against the headrest, you avoid slouching and relieve the load on the muscles in your upper back.
- When on the train, bus or subway (or when you’re a passenger in a carpool), don’t look at your smartphone. When you’re sitting for a long period of time your lower back is already inactive, so leaning your head forward to view a screen, you’re hurting yourself in two ways. Instead, bring a pair of headphones and listen to a podcast or music.
- If you’re on public transportation and it works, get off a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way to your destination. Doing so will activate your glutes and decrease pain in your lower back, and has the added benefit of extending the amount of time that you’re spending upright instead of sitting or slouching.
- Sit actively instead of passively. If your commute is too long to stand the whole time, or if you’re carrying too many items to make standing feasible, then make the most of your time seated. Not only does this mean ensuring that you’re not slouching: it means sitting with your spine pressed against the back of the seat and with your core engaged. You can arch your back forwards and backwards in small movements to actively engage your core and keep your spine moving. Stretch your neck and turn your head from side to side every few minutes, always being mindful of your posture.
- This one is for the brave or for those who aren’t self-conscious: use the handrails on the bus or subway and do some stretches. You don’t have to do full backbends or toe touches to get a good benefit and hip flexor stretch.
If these moves don’t help and you still have pain, it is probably time to see our cervical spine specialist in New Jersey for help. Call us today to set up an appointment and learn about the options available to you.