Five Tips to Reduce Neck and Back Pain on Long Car Rides

3 minute read

When the weather gets warmer, the engines start firing up for those long summer road trips.
The winter holiday season means highway traveling to visit family and friends. Maybe you spend a significant amount of time in the car traveling for business or shuttling the kids to activities?

No matter the reason or the season, the last thing you need when you arrive at your destination is that nagging neck or back pain and stiff joints that coincide with long trips. Check out these five tips to reduce neck and back pain on long car rides that can help you be pain-free and refreshed when you arrive at your destination.

Take Plenty of Rest Breaks

This one is a tough one—especially for the dads like mine who absolutely hate bathroom breaks on road trips, but it is one of the most important. Taking frequent rest breaks is crucial to allow your body the opportunity to move. When joints stay in one position for extended periods, stiffness and therefore pain are both very likely. To prevent this, try to stop every 1 – 1.5 hours on longer trips and about half-way on trips less than 3 hours. While it may take longer overall to reach your destination, it will be well worth it if you arrive in less pain and discomfort.

Neck Stretches

While driving or riding on long trips, people typically spend a large majority of the time looking straight forward, eyes ahead. In order to help prevent a stiff and painful neck on long road trips, consider performing these exercises when stopped on a rest break.

  • Gently and slowly nod your head up and down, ear to shoulder, and rotate side to side approximately 10 times in each direction. This keeps your neck moving helping it to not become stiff.
  • Upper Trapezius Stretch: with shoulders relaxed, gently side bend the head taking the ear towards the shoulder. Hold for 10-15 seconds.
  • Levator Stretch: gently rotate head to one side and drop the chin down towards the shoulder. Hold the stretch for 10-15 seconds.

Hip and Back Stretches

Even if you are using cruise control, keeping your seat in one position for a long time can wreak havoc on your back. While on your rest breaks, use these stretches to help reduce the risk of back pain upon your arrival:

  • Seated trunk flexion: Seated with legs spread apart, bend forward at the waist until a stretch is felt. Hold for 10-15 seconds.
  • Standing backward bending: Stand with your hands behind your back and arch backwards.
  • Piriformis Stretch: In sitting, cross the ankle at the opposite knee. Pull knee across chest until a gentle stretch is felt through the buttocks. Hold for 10-15 seconds.
  • Hamstring stretch: Place leg to be stretched on an object 6-8 inches off the ground in front of you. Gently lean forward at the hips careful not to just round the back until a gentle stretch is felt. Hold 10-15 seconds.

Pack Healthy Snacks

Road trip and gas station snacks may taste good, but the extra sodium from processed and sugary food can increase fluid retention which elevates the risk of joint pain. By packing healthy snacks such as fruit, vegetables, yogurt, and granola bars, you can help avoid the swelling that often accompanies traveling.

We Can Help

Long car rides can be fun road trips or necessary with business travel. Either way, by following these 5 tips to reduce neck and back pain, you can set yourself up for a more enjoyable time once you arrive at your destination.

Unfortunately, neck and back pain with long trips is not always completely unavoidable. If your pain persists or you are wanting to head off a potential problem before you go, come see a university trained physical therapist at Bourassa & Associates Rehabilitation Centre to allow us to guide you back in the right direction. With 19 locations across Saskatchewan, you can get started the same day you call! No doctor’s referral needed.

Listen to the Podcast

Richard Bourassa joins Brent Loucks on 650 CKOM to discuss the common injuries the clinic see’s from long car rides and how to prevent them.


Get up. Get here. Recover.

Life is too short to sit on the sidelines. Get back in the game.

Get up. Get here. Recover.

Life is too short to sit on the sidelines. Get back in the game.