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Driving with sciatic nerve pain is literally a pain in the butt. You bend down, sit behind the wheel, drive for a couple of minutes or hours, and then you feel devastating pain on your back. Not only that, because as you continue to drive, you can also experience discomfort and stiffness on one of your legs.
Yes, that’s what sciatica does. It may be a common condition and yet, still misunderstood among other types of back pain. It tends to get classified with regular back pain or muscle strains, but the truth is—sciatica is different.
In this article, we will take a quick look at sciatica, how sciatica pain is different, and some tips to be pain-free if you are driving with sciatica.
Sciatica pain originates with the sciatic nerves. These are the large nerves that protrude from the lower back, ending at the soles of the feet and toes. Sciatica flares up when a part of the sciatic nerves become compressed or irritated. And because the sciatic nerve runs from the buttocks to the toes, the symptoms occur in that area too. You may feel the pain anywhere along its branch—your lower back, your buttocks, either one of your legs, and your calf, or foot. This is the most distinctive symptom of sciatica, a pain that radiates from the lower back to the legs.
No sciatic pain experience is the same. Sciatica can vary from throbbing or stabbing pain, dull soreness, feelings of electric shock, numbness in the legs, or tingling sensations. It can also present as an annoying mild ache or severe pain which can make standing or sitting unbearable.
Driving is an essential part of many people’s lives. In the United States alone, the projected number of licensed drivers (2019) is around 228 million. Knowing that sciatica affects 40% of the population at some point in their lives, we can assume that a large portion of these drivers can be a sciatica candidate.
Driving is one of the many activities that can trigger sciatica to flare up. Driving requires sitting and constant limb movement or limb-body-spine-coordination. And when you find yourself stuck in the middle of the road due to traffic, you’ll sit on the chair long enough to feel sciatica pain resurfacing.
One overlooked cause for sciatica flare-up is the effect of certain forces when you sit inside a running vehicle. When we say forces, we are pertaining to the vibrations from a moving car. This includes the accelerations and decelerations, as well as the lateral movement of the body due to gravity and the on-and-off motion. Vibrations get absorbed by the body, and there is evidence that whenever we drive or ride a vehicle, we are increasing our spine’s workload. High spinal loadings, particularly in the lower back, are associated with increased risk of back pain, injuries, and postural discomfort.
There is no universal treatment method for sciatica. Treatment plans vary from one person to another. Several cases respond to self-care measures and home management strategies. For most people, adequate rest prevents acute episodes of pain and other symptoms. Depending on the cause, lifestyle modifications and home remedies can also work, as well as alternative therapies like acupuncture. If it does not respond to non-invasive forms of treatment, surgery may be advised.
Some people may find that taming sciatica pain can be challenging. But it is important to know that it is not impossible. There are many ways to reduce and control sciatica pain. Once you know the cause of your sciatica, how severe your condition is, and what causes your sciatica to flare up, it will be easier to deal with the pain.
Some may benefit from short periods of rest, massage, or physical therapy, and others may not. The good news is that in three out of four sciatica pain sufferers, the symptoms improve over a couple of weeks. You just have to avoid sciatica triggers and find an appropriate treatment approach.
The question that bugs many sciatica sufferers is whether they can sit for extended hours and drive pain-free. The answer to that is a resounding yes.
Here, you’ll find a list of the most common recommended solutions on how to avoid leg pain while driving if you have sciatica.
Everybody has a limit. Runners know how far and how long they can run. Weight lifters know how heavy they can lift. Athlete or not, you should know your body’s capability, including its limitations. Know how long your body can tolerate sitting or drive before your sciatica pain begins. By being aware of these details, you’ll be able to schedule breaks or stopovers for long drives.
Even without sciatica or other types of back problems, anyone could experience soreness or discomfort from sitting behind the wheel for a long drive. Passengers can feel it too, especially if the car’s seat doesn’t match your body built or figure.
One way to avoid fatigue, soreness, or discomfort while driving or sitting on a car is to sit comfortably. Yes, the secret is to be aware of your driving position and find out the most comfortable set up for your body.
You probably won’t be able to determine that in one sitting. Start by trying to pinpoint what causes your sciatica to flare up and adjust your seat the next time you ride. If it didn’t work, make necessary adjustments, and play around various positions again. Just make sure to do it when you are not driving. But, keep in mind not to change everything at once because a new position could make your sciatica worse. Let your body adjust slowly.
Stretch out and move your muscles. Taking the time to relax and stretch does several things to your body. It will keep you limber and tension-free. Also, stretching can reduce further back injury.
Other benefits of sciatica stretches include:
• Better movement due to increased flexibility and range of motion.
• Reduced stiffness or tightness of the muscles due to increased blood flow.
• Improved circulation, which reduces the risk of having blood clots.
So the next time you hit the road, remember to do some stretching to keep your blood flowing and avoid sciatic nerve pains.
When we say take a break, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop in the middle of the road! But, kidding aside, we recommend taking a few minutes break so you can relax and rest your back from sitting on the chair. Your arms and legs will also thank you for giving them a period of rest from doing repetitive movements.
Taking a break is vital because whenever you drive, you are exposed to whole-body vibration, and you are prone to blood circulation restriction.
Unlike many drawings or cartoon characters depicting a driving scenario, your arms should not be extended (completely straight), clutching the steering wheel. Instead, your arms should be gently bent and in a relaxed position.
Also, avoid slouching and make sure that you are not experiencing trouble in reaching the car seat’s headrest. Keep your shoulders back, and your head rested back.
If your arms and head begin to feel uneasy or tense, it will affect your entire body.
Although many vehicles are fitted with well-designed seats—you may still feel sore at the end of the day. This is because car seats are made following a universal size and shape.
Let’s put it this way. Imagine you are sitting behind your desk at work. Now, think about the size, height, and shape of your chair. Is it customized for you or not? If your employer provided the chairs or desk at work, the chances are that they came in one size. Whatever kind of chair your co-worker has, you will have it too. Same goes with cars unless you bought a customized vehicle, your car seats will be of standard size and shape.
So, how do you go driving with sciatica? Well, the key is to set up your driving condition as if you are setting up good sitting ergonomics at work. No, this does not imply that you should buy a specialized chair with expensive seat covers. Instead, we recommend that you take time to find out if you can benefit from using a sciatica driving pillow or a wedge cushion. Seat cushions are inexpensive tools that can keep your driving more comfortable. They help reduce pressure between the tailbone, the back, and the driving seat. So try to find the best car seat cushions for long drives and your body built. Most cushions are designed to promote comfortable driving by improving circulation to the legs and distributing body weight evenly.
If you have cell phones, keys, wallet, or any hard object in your back pocket, then you may be one step away from a sciatica flare-up. Why? Any hard object can aggravate the muscle called the piriformis muscle, which is located deep in your buttocks. This muscle is near the sciatic nerve, that is why any pressure can result in impingement of the nerve, ensuing pain.
A warm bath, or application of warm compress, is based on a treatment approach called heat therapy. The use of heat to a sore area has numerous benefits. Heat application stimulates sensory receptors on the skin, which in turn helps you to focus less on your pain. It also causes the blood vessels to dilate, encouraging healing. As the blood vessel widens, it facilitates the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the injured site. Experts say that heat therapy also stretches the soft tissues, which aids in relieving the pressure on the sciatic nerve.
A gentle massage, with or without the use of essential oils for sciatica, can aid in relieving discomfort. It helps alleviate pain in two ways. First, it increases your pain threshold, and then it minimizes muscle tension.
Whenever you experience leg pain from driving too much, one possible cause is muscle tension. Light tissue massage helps ease tense muscles, thereby reducing the pressure on sciatic nerves. Aside from that, massaging promotes the secretion of our body’s natural analgesic called endorphins. These hormones relieve pain, boost pleasure sensations, and promote a sense of well-being.
In addition to the nine management and prevention strategies we discussed, there are many things that you can try at home for sciatica pain relief. You can:
• Avoid sitting for extended periods
• Maintain good posture whenever you sit, especially if you are working on a desk or if you are using a computer
• Use a footrest cushion if the table or your work desk is too high. Your feet should be flat on the ground.
• Be aware of the normal curvature of your spine
• Observe proper body mechanics when you are bending, twisting, lifting, or performing any activity at home
• Try simple exercises for sciatica or do some yoga techniques
• Use warm and cold therapy to relieve flare-ups
• Maintain good sleep hygiene
• Use an appropriate pillow or mattress when lying on bed or sleeping
• Stop stressing yourself out
• Find out the best sleeping position
• Eat nutritious and healthy food
• Listen to relaxing music
• Use aromatherapy or essential oils
• Find natural solutions like the use of herbs to aid in reducing inflammation
• Wear a posture corrector or back support to maintain a healthy posture
If these home remedies do not help in improving the symptoms associated with your condition, your primary care provider or family physician might recommend other treatment options to manage your pain. You may be referred to a specialist for pain management who can prescribe and treat you with medications such as pain relievers as well as steroid injections to decrease inflammation. Other options include nerve blocks and other advanced treatment methods.
If you have tried all possible sciatica pain relief methods and you still experience sciatica flare-ups, you may want to consider getting a vehicle that will suit your needs. Fortunately, many cars have certain features to minimize the risk of back pain.
Here, we will discuss these features because we know that a smooth ride is crucial, and a bouncy ride can worsen sciatica symptoms. The following questions are essential in deciding which car is perfect to avoid sciatica back pains. Before buying a car, ask the following:
• Does the car match the requirements for your body size?
• Does the layout of the car make it difficult for you to move?
• Do the car’s ergonomic features meet your driving needs?
• Will you benefit from additional features such as power liftgates, back-up cameras, electronic seat adjustment controls, etc.?
Here is the ultimate guide for choosing the best car for your back pain:
• Look for a vehicle that will allow you to get in and out easily
• Test how adjustable the seats are so you can sit comfortably
• Examine if the car has heated seats, it might help ease aching muscles
• Check if you can reach the pedals, controls, and steering wheel easily. You should not struggle in any way when driving.
• Take the car for a test drive before buying. Ensure that the vehicle suits your needs. Test it on different kinds of roads if possible.
Based on scientific studies, various academic journals, and reviews including vehicular engineering reports, an optimal car seat design should:
• Have an adjustable back seat, height, bottom incline, and bottom seat depth
• Have an adjustable seat cushion with a firm or dense foam
• Be horizontally and vertically adjustable
• Have bilateral armrests and pulsating lumbar support
• Have an adjustable headrest, and back-damped seat material to decrease rebounding and vibrations
It is likely that most vehicles do not have all of the features in one vehicle, but some may have more features than others. Pay particular attention to this guideline to protect your back and be pain-free when driving.
If you plan to try any of the approach listed above, please be sure that you have the permission of your primary care provider. This article is only for informational purposes, and should not be considered as a substitute for medical advice.
We hope that you find relief using the tips we shared. Trying any of these travel tips on driving with sciatica isn’t expensive at all. If you have suggestions, please do not hesitate to share so we can help others who want to find out ways to drive pain free.