Beat the road-trip stiff-back blues


FRAZZLED BUT PAIN- FREE  Parents of smallies are less likely to suffer from car-journey stiffness, as they’ve probably been stopping, feeding and refereeing, and so moving more.


Andrew O'Brien

‘Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel’. Given their rather reckless approach to life, it’s hard to believe Jim Morrison and The Doors were so serious about road safety. Although perhaps the following lines about getting to the roadhouse to have a real good time reveal that their main concern was reaching the party safely. Either way, ‘Roadhouse Blues’ is a classic driving song.
Before you roll your eyes and assume this is one of those social media ‘I nominate you to tell me your favourite songs’ type challenges, let’s consider why we’re talking about road-trip songs. Staycations. Yep, there’s no milling around airports and all listening to our own headphones this summer. Instead, we’re all wedged in the car and fighting over control of the stereo. Again though, this isn’t about music choices, but travelling choices.
Ireland is a small country with generally good roads, meaning for the majority of people taking a road trip this summer the longest drive will be three-and-a-half to four hours. If I’m organised, fed and rested, I can happily drive that long without stopping. Then I get out at the other end stooped over like an old man in need of a neck massage, back surgery and a hip replacement.
Why do we get so stiff in the car? Is it because the seats are terrible? Maybe I kept the window open a bit and a draft came in? Do I have bad posture?
Actually, when you look at it, none of those things ring true. Car seats have improved considerably in the last 30 years to the point where they are adjustable in all directions and often heated as well. Most of us have air-conditioning and wouldn’t leave the window open for a longer drive – and would probably end up with a damp shoulder if we did!
Which surely leaves posture as the culprit, right? The answer is yes, but not how you might think. No single posture has ever been shown to be inherently bad. Even that awful looking hunched over a phone or computer shape isn’t entirely bad. It’s the duration that counts, and this is where driving causes problems.
If I sat at a computer and didn’t move for four hours, it would be a miracle. Even if my attention span could last that long, I would fidget, get up for a coffee or to go to the loo. But driving doesn’t tend to lend itself to those small adjustments. We go to the loo before we leave, fill a travel mug, turn on the heated seats, crank up Steppenwolf and ‘get the motor running, get out on the highway’. Then we barely move for four hours and the old man shuffle is back; less ‘Born to Be Wild’, more born to be mild.
In an ironic way, the frazzled parents with a couple of small kids will end their drive on an emotional knife edge after seven toilet stops and four feeding breaks, but they probably aren’t stiff. The getting in and out to clean spilt drinks, search for favourite toys and separate squabbling kids has kept them moving. They might feel like they’ve been on AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’, and be tempted to go on a Jim Morrison-sized bender, but at least they’ve been moving.
Part of the joy of a road trip is the stops along the way. Pull over and grab a coffee or a bite to eat. Go for a stroll around the little villages you’d normally never pay attention to and take the kids to a playground. Have a picnic beside a river somewhere and do a few stretches on the rug yourself. Everyone will arrive feeling more mobile and more relaxed.
And there we have it, the answer to driving-related back pain. Turn off the driving songs. Tom Cochrane can forget it; life is not a highway and we’re not going to ride it all night long. Ignore Queen and their ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ carry-on. Instead, we’re going to let the toddlers take over and every so often stop for a round of ‘Hokey Cokey’. Just remember to keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel.

Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200
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