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Give your back a break this summer

Give your back a break this summer

Are you driving home for Christmas? Have you ever felt stiff or sore after driving? Wellington osteopath Martin Rooke has some tips for looking after your back on long journeys.

Martin says that we think about many things when planning a car trip, from how to fit everything in the car to what music to listen to, but we also have to plan for the fact that a car trip involves a lot of sitting. “People need to give their backs a break, especially people who spend long hours sitting during the year,” says Martin.

Back pain is common, with around four out of five New Zealanders experiencing back pain at some point. Contributing factors include poor posture, heavy lifting, driving and sitting for long periods.

Martin says that people weren’t designed to sit for hours at a time, and an easy golden rule is to increase your blood circulation while sitting. For computer users this means standing up and walking about every 15 minutes. This clearly isn’t possible when travelling by car, but there are still things you can do to help yourself.

The first thing to do is to set your car seat up to suit you. Martin says there is a myth that it is better for your back to make the seat more vertical. “A lot of people tell me that they have made their seat more upright to help prevent back pain. In fact it’s better for you to recline by around 20 degrees as it transfers some weight off your spine and into the seat” he says.

Posture is also important, and this will depend on whether your seat can be adjusted to provide support where you need it. Everyone’s back is a different shape, and a seat should ideally fit your back as snugly as your shoes fit your feet. “We don’t expect one shoe size to fit all – why should your back be any different?” says Martin.

During his twenty-five years of treating people for back pain, Martin has noticed that a high percentage of patients report that driving aggravates their back. For years he kept an eagle eye out for a good lumbar support that he could recommend, no matter their shape or size. Unable to find one, he invented Morfit Convertible. “It changes shape to fit the user – so for the first time there’s a lumbar support that fits everyone” he says.

Tips to help look after your back on your journey:
• Recline your seat by around 20 degrees and adjust the lumbar (if possible) to support your low back.
• Stop as often as possible – on a long journey try for five minutes per hour. Get out of your seat and do something active (knee squats are ideal)
• Passengers can exercise while the car is moving:
a. Without moving your feet, and with your feet flat on the floor, move your knees/thighs back and forth
b. with your feet flat on the floor, lift your heels up and down to stretch your calves
c. clench your buttocks off and on: a good strong clench should make your torso rise up by a few centimetres

For more information about pain-free driving go to


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