Herniated disc and car: Driving without pain (5 tips)

car ride and herniated disc

Article reviewed and approved by Dr. Ibtissama Boukas, physician specializing in family medicine

Most of us have to drive to get to work or go about our business. When we suffer from herniated disc, it can happen that traveling by car is difficult, so that sometimes you have to give up certain hobbies or trips because of the pain.

How to optimize car journeys in the presence of a herniated disc? Can you drive after an operation? What positions should be preferred? This article explains how to drive when you suffer from disc disease.

Herniated disc: Reminder

Let's start with a short reminder about the herniated disc. The more you understand the diagnosis and the resulting symptoms, the more effective the treatment will be. To learn all about herniated disc and its impact on sports and professional activities, see the following article:

Herniated disc from A to Z: Better understand your diagnosis (symptoms and causes)

Essentially, the discs deform and bulge out of their shells as part of a herniated disc. Since there are several nerve roots around these discs, an inflammatory process and nerve irritation may ensue, causing the symptoms (low back pain, radiation, numbness, tingling, etc.).

Although not always the case, symptoms are often aggravated by prolonged sitting. This is because this posture promotes the migration of the disc backwards, which causes the characteristic symptoms of a herniated disc.

This makes long trips particularly difficult for people with the disease, even more so if the seat is not comfortable or space is limited. Not ideal when you have to use the car frequently to go to work!

Can you drive after a herniated disc operation?

After one surgical intervention aimed at correcting the herniated disc, the doctor will prescribe a rehabilitation protocol. This will depend on the condition of the patient and the type of surgery performed. In some cases, prolonged sitting at 90 degrees may be contraindicated for a while.

Thus, it is essential to obtain the green light from the surgeon before resuming driving. Moreover, the same principles apply if you want to fly in the presence of a herniated disc. 

5 tips to make car journeys easier

As a large majority of cases of herniated disc are not operated on, you have to learn to live with the symptoms, and adjust activities so as not to aggravate the condition.

Here are 5 tips that can be applied to reduce car pain when suffering from herniated disc.

1. Be as comfortable as possible even before departure

If you have pain as soon as you get into the driver's or passenger's seat, there's probably something wrong.

Start by adjusting your seat, especially if you're sharing the car with your spouse. Also, try to position the rearview mirror as high as possible. This will force you to stand up straight, which will prevent you from slouching.

2. Place a pillow or towel in the small of your back

 If your back pain is relieved by standing up straighter, you could use a lumbar cushion in the lower back. This increase in lordosis is often favorable for reducing symptoms, and reducing the radiation of pain in the leg.

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An alternative would be to place a rolled up towel on your lower back for similar support. Adjust the thickness of the towel so as not to create a hyperlordose which would be painful in the long run.

3. If possible, use cruise control

If you are driving long distances on the highway, cruise control will allow you to strain your nerve less sciatica (since you won't be extending the leg as much). This can often soothe radiating pain in the legs.

4. Get moving in the car

Often, back pain worsens when one adopts a prolonged posture or remains inactive. Thus, by performing a few movements such as the pelvic tilt, cervical retractions and the recruitment of deep muscles, your muscles and joints will remain in motion and avoid stiffening!

5. Just get moving!

Moving around in the car to relieve his symptoms is good. But it is even more important to stay active at all times as far as possible. 

Physical exercise has been shown to be one of the most effective methods for treating back problems and herniated discs. Whether it's aerobic exercises or lumbar stabilization, maintaining a physical routine can greatly help you treat your pain... not to mention the benefits to your general health!

A kinesitherapist (physiotherapist) can help you build a suitable program that will help reduce your symptoms, improve your functional abilities (including car journeys), and prevent the risk of recurrence.

Here is a proposal for 5 sports to practice safely in the presence of a herniated disc.

Good recovery !

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