How can I prevent my lower back from hurting after a long trip?

Very often lower back pain is caused by tightness in the calves, hamstrings, and hip flexors. These muscles get tight because they are in a shortened position for extended periods of time when we sit. One thing you can do to try to either alleviate your pain, or prevent it is travel with a tennis ball, and use it as you would a foam roller. You can place the ball under tender spots in your hamstrings or calves, and lay on it with your upper thigh and outside thigh to reach your hip flexors. Stay on the ball for 30 seconds or more, and follow all of this with static stretching of the muscles you just "rolled." (30 second holds)
5-10 minutes of static stretching, a couple simple exercises, or a combination of both, before and after your trip will go a long way to ease any discomfort from long periods of sitting.

A couple stretches;
1. Try lying down on your back on the floor. Next pull your knees toward your chest and hug them with both arms. Rotate gently back and forth, or side to side. This will utilize the floor to "massage" your lower back and relax those muscles.

2. Next, straighten your legs out, bend one leg to 90 degrees, grab that knee with your opposite hand and gently twist till your knee is over the straight leg. If you can touch the floor with your bent knee, that's great, but no need to push it. It's important on this stretch to keep your shoulders flat against the floor, this will maximize the stretch. 

A couple exercises to try also;
1. Remain on the floor and bend both legs, hip distance apart. With your arms straight beside you, palms facing up, lift your hips until you form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. This is called a "floor bridge." Lower your hips back down and repeat this movement 8-10 times. This will warmup muscles in your lower abdominals as well as your lower back.

2. Another simple movement that is effective for the lower back is to sit comfortably in a chair. Now lift your left knee up as high as is comfortable with out any straining. Now lift your right knee is the same manner. Alternate this movement slowly, almost like your marching while seated. This is a good exercise to also do during your long trip, while seated in a car or on a plane, to warm the muscles and increase blood flow to the area. This may prevent tightening in the muscles and lessen any discomfort.
Alan F. Bain, DO
Alan F. Bain, DO on behalf of MDLIVE
Internal Medicine
If it is a car trip, you need to take breaks and get out of the car perhaps every 45 minutes to 1 hour. You also need proper lower back support. If it is a trip where you are walking a great deal, then again you need get properly fitted with go shoes.
Passive stretching. Do this before your back starts to hurt. There are two stretches that are ideal:
  • The Hippie. With your feet flat on the ground, slowly bend forward at your waist as long as it feels comfortable. Alternate bending one knee and keeping the other leg straight (but still keeping your feet flat) and let your head dangle down, releasing all your tension. Stretch each side for 15 seconds.
  • Airplane Stretch. While seated, cross your right leg on top of your left knee. Take your right elbow and set it on top of your right knee, and put your hand on your right ankle. Lean forward and press your lower back toward your right/up calf while keeping your back straight. Look straight ahead. To increase the stretch-simultaneously take your left hand and pull your right foot toward the ceiling.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.