23 Aug The “Painful” Cottage Drive
There are few things nicer in the summer than to escape Toronto’s stifling concrete heat and humidity for Cottage Country. We are blessed to have such incredible outdoor space to adventure to, but unless you have your own private helicopter, it means braving the traffic and spending (a lot of) time in the car.
This is a certain thorn in the side for my cottagers and I felt the sting of it on the weekend after a seven hour drive from Temagami area to Toronto. I do not spend more than 7 hours sitting in a day, never mind a week, and rarely would be in a car for that long in a given month. In other words, my back and body is unaccustomed to such a task and has very little endurance to this type of stress. A bike for 7 hours sure. A car, ugh!
Within a few hours of being in the car, my back was stiff and tight and felt like it needed a great stretch. The reason being is that my body needed that movement and my body was trying to tell me
I was listening to a great chiropractic podcast last week and I absolutely loved the thesis that was put forward, which I will briefly paraphrase
Symptoms are a signal from our body’s automatic systems to our conscious mind. Symptoms are meant to have us contemplate and usually initiate a change in behaviour. They are a signal that something about our environment is not suiting us and is doing some sort of harm or placing excess stress on our system. Symptoms make us want to change positions, move or act to better adapt to our surroundings to avoid damage or danger. They are a basic instinct trying to save you
Of course we hurt and feel uncomfortable when we spend too much time in the car, office chair or lazying around on the couch. Our spines and nervous system crave movement to function at their best and we cannot be healthy without a healthy nervous system. Excessive strain from sitting is linked with poorer health outcomes in the long term and a greater incidence of spine pain in the short and long term.
You literally feel the effects and damage done because your body, in all its evolutionary wisdom, provides these symptoms to get you out of that environment. I am a big believer that if you have a keen awareness and listen to the demands of your well calibrated body that knows what is good and bad for it, you will be guided in the right direction. In the case of sitting, your body is trying to tell you to “get up and out of this chair or I am really going to make you feel it”.
So what if you are stuck in a car / plane / moving vehicle and have no choice to escape your present environment?
Your best to options are
- Strengthen your core musculature – we all already know this is the best long-game solutions. A stronger and more functional core will allow you to sustain a less than optimal position for longer. This is a good place to start
- Modify the environment to better fit you and use the same principles as if you were at the office
Change the positioning of your chair to best match the ideal posture of sitting in an office chair.
- Thighs parallel to the ground or angled slightly downward
- A small curve to the low back. Use the lumbar support built into the car, a rolled up towel or a aftermarket back – your back should be soft and not doing any work or strain
- Back against the back rest and head resting gently on the headrest
- Avoid reach for the pedals and steering wheel. Both should be within comfortable distance
- Dr Ritza’s Posture and Office Musts
Take a break!
We all want to get to the cottage or back home as soon as possible – no exceptions! But just like how we want to get as much work done at the office as possible, the long game means taking a break regularly. Try to take a break from driving at least once an hour, even if only for 1 minute.
Take turns driving (not if it is a plane please)
When you are a passenger you have a little more freedom to adopt a more comfortable position during the commute and have more freedom to move around in your seat. If you are a passenger and it feels good to adopt a certain position, say sitting with your knees to your chest than please be my guest.
Move before and after
Taking a few minutes to stretch before and after the journey is the best way to prevent and ensure that there is no subsequent issues respectively.
This morning routine I use is the perfect warm-up and cool-down for a long car ride
Just because you are stuck in the seat does not mean you can’t move. As I would suggest to someone in the office, try to change positions every 15 minutes even if it is only for a couple of seconds. Try doing little “hula hoops” with your abdomen, tilt your pelvis forward and back, and side to side, arch your back like a cat, etcetera , etcetera….. and repeat.
Squirming and moving around in your seat will load different joints and tissues in the back and will not only provide some relief but could also be the difference between a pleasurable drive and the opposite.
If you are continually plagued pain from your sitting habit or notice that something just does not feel right, it might be time to have a proper assessment of the health of your spine and nervous system; you don’t know until you get it checked out.