A physical therapist’s top tips for long holiday road trips

Getting away for the holiday weekend can involve hours of driving in less-than-ideal conditions for your posture — but a Maryland physical therapist has tips to help prevent injury.

“What I tend to find the most is back problems, people develop back problems over the course of these weekends,” said Sebastian Cohen, a doctor of physical therapy at Kaiser Permanente in Largo. “People come and tell me: ‘I was in the car for seven hours, I got up and BAM! I went down to the ground,’ right?”

Sebastian Cohen is a doctor of physical therapy at Kaiser Permanente in Largo. (Courtesy Kaiser Permanente)

Cohen’s advice is to move as much as you can. If you’re driving, pull over frequently, even if it’s just to step out of the car for a minute to put your hands on your hips and lean backward.

“Movement is good, changing positions is good. What really hurts us on these trips is being in that seated, folded-over position for hours and hours without a stop,” he said. “I know you’re in a rush to get to your destination, but what you don’t want is to get to your destination and ruin the vacation with a herniated disk.”

While driving, Cohen recommends extending your legs as far as is safely practical by moving the seat back so your knee is more extended. Try to unfold yourself as much as possible while still being safe and comfortable by reclining the seat and straightening the knee.

There are tricks to use to help your spine maintain better alignment while driving.

“I find a lot of people get benefit from different kinds of lumbar supports. Even if it’s as simple as just rolling up a towel, and just sticking it down around where your beltline would be,” Cohen said.

Saying YouTube is your friend, Cohen recommends searching for examples of good lumbar support while driving.

If you happen to be taking a long airplane flight, Cohen advises doing what you can to keep moving and blood flowing even if you’re not on the aisle and unable to get up easily.

“Do a lot of ankle movements, write little alphabets with your ankle, do a little pointing,” he said. “Keep those lower extremities moving and just don’t stop, don’t stop.”

To practice the best posture possible in different situations, you can find visual examples on the Mayo Clinic website.


Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up