A special thanks to Jennifer for writing this for us!
Driving is something that’s hard to avoid. Whether it’s a daily
work commute, a summer vacation, or traveling to visit family at
the holidays, you probably drive at some point. However, driving
can mean lots of jaw, muscle, and back pain for many people.
Why does driving hurt the jaw and muscles so much?
As with most TMJ-related problems, I think this is a
mutli-layered issue. First, posture while driving isn’t ideal. The car seat
may not lock in to your ideal sitting position, and your spine,back muscles,
and leg muscles may not be sitting comfortably. While driving, you have to
hold your head forward, move your neck to look around, use your right leg way
more than the left, and perform other motions that may put extra strain on
already stressed muscles of your body.
It’s also very easy to end up clenching your jaw, which hurts the joint and
other muscles. Driving can be stressful, or boring, and either one of these
situations can let you easily slide into clenching. Rough roads can also
cause a lot of movement that can cause your jaw to move
around, and you may clench to help stabilize it.
Dehydration can also be an issue, especially if it’s a longer drive.
It’s easy to avoid beverages all together to avoid making lots of stops,
and it’s easy to choose coffee or pop over water or other more hydrating
choices which can affect your muscles. And if you’re anything like me,
you may also talk and sing (a lot!) in the car.
When we drive to visit family, we’re in the car for 5 hours, and
we don’t really want to sit there silently. We usually have the radio
on loud, and talk over it, and occasionally sing along. 5 hours
(or any amount of time) is a lot of time to use my jaw for this!
For all drives, make sure your seat and mirrors are comfortable before
departing. Position your steering wheel at a height that allows your
arms and shoulders to be as comfortable as possible.
Position your seat and situate yourself comfortably. I have a little round pillow
like this one:
I bring with me. Putting this against the lower back can help cushion
or make up for the sometimes less than ideal position I’m in while driving.
I can also use it for my neck
You can also purchase in-car lumbar support like this one:
for a sturdier way to position your back.
If I am going to be driving far, I usually take a preventative ibuprofen
or two. I’m not a fan of over-medicating, but trying to fix this problem
before it starts is worth it to me in this situation.
If I get a bad headache or pain while driving, and then take an ibuprofen,
I’d have to wait for it to kick in… while still driving or while sitting
at a rest area. I’d rather try to stop it before it starts.I am fortunate
enough that ibuprofen works for my pain, but if you need stronger medication
for your pain, be cautious taking it before or while driving!
Stopping at least once on a longer drive can be great as well. I usually
like to drive as far as possible without stopping, but getting out of the
car around half way and stretching can help a lot. I usually do this at a
fast food restaurant where I can get something to eat and drink as well
(fruit and yogurt parfaits and milkshakes are very jaw friendly!).
I also make sure I have plenty of water and jaw-friendly snacks with me
for when I can’t stop or just want to go to a rest area.
Yogurt travels pretty well, or really soft Nutrigrain bars work, too.
Eating or drinking has a huge placebo effect for me. Whatever works!
If you have a car with electric outlets in it, bring your favorite heating
pad with you! One with an auto-off feature might be best for driving so it
doesn’t get too hot, but if you feel you can manage
to reach the switch and safely manage it, any one should do.
Do you have any other tips for jaw-friendly driving?