Neck Exercises when Stuck in Traffic

driving posture back pain steering wheelNeck pain sufferers are often told to stretch and strengthen the cervical spinal muscles and carrying out neck exercises whilst stuck in traffic may be ideal for those struggling to incorporate these into their daily routine. Stretching out that neck tension and keeping those cervical spinal muscles loose and limber might provide significant relief from neck pain and stiffness otherwise only achieved through pain medication and anti-inflammatories. Obviously we are not advocating shoulder rolls whilst speeding down the freeway but a few quick stretches at the stoplight, or a longer neck exercise routine when there is a jam can help keep you from getting stressed out in the car by making that ‘lost’ time more productive and relaxing.

You might have to ignore the odd glance from those in the traffic beside you but at least you might achieve some neck pain relief. All these neck exercises can be done in the car, on the plane, or even at the office if sitting for long periods of time and are a great way of relieving a stiff neck and tight muscles.


One important thing to mention is that traffic itself can cause neck pain by getting all those stuck stressed out with nowhere for the adrenaline-induced energy to go. Trying to avoid getting stuck in a traffic jam is easier said than done, but allowing that little bit of extra time just in case can be help you feel less stressed about being late for an appointment. Gripping the steering wheel and shouting at the driver in front is not conducive to a relaxed body and will quickly lead to neck tension and neck pain. The lower back is also an area prone to stiffness when sitting in traffic for a long time and there are some great lower back exercises to help relieve spinal stenosis that can be done at home along with some suitable for the car. Neck exercises are a little easier to carry out in traffic and there are also other ways of minimizing the risks of neck stiffness and pain when driving.

neck exercises in traffic steering wheel back pain

Hands should be at 3 O'Clock and 9 O'Clock with arms slightly flexed but relaxed.

Change Your Seating Position

Gripping the steering wheel too tightly is a key trigger for neck pain, as is being too far away from the steering wheel. Make sure that your seat is positioned so that you can easily reach the gas pedal and don’t have to stretch forward – even adjusting the seat by an inch or so can change the stresses and strains on the back and start working muscle groups that have become lazy and weak from prolonged sitting. Some companies who require employees to spend large amounts of time on the road will hire specialist ergonomic assessors to ensure that their cars are safe and set up to promote good back and neck health for their drivers. Those who are particularly tall, have shorter legs or arms, or who have medical conditions may be able to get advice from an ergonomist to reduce the risks of back problems and neck pain from continually bad posture when driving.

A key element of good driving posture is having your hands at 3 O’Clock and 9 O’Clock on the steering wheel with the arms slightly flexed but relaxed. A simple stretch can be done from this position by pulling your shoulder blades down in order to get the muscles in the middle of the back working. This stretch also forces the upper back muscles to relax, thus relieving some of the stored up tension in the shoulders and neck. Doing five repetitions for each shoulder blade, followed by five repetitions of both shoulders together can help to strengthen the back muscles and reduce the risk of neck and back pain in the future.


A simple side stretch, bringing the ear to the shoulder (without bringing the shoulder up to meet it) can help relieve some neck tension whilst driving. Make sure to repeat this on both sides of the neck and to keep the movement consistent. For those with cervical spinal stenosis it might not be advisable to actually move the neck with dynamic exercises; instead, resistance neck exercises can be carried out where the hand is placed flat against the side of the top of the head and the same muscles worked but with enough resistance to stop the head actually moving. A forward (flexion) exercise can be carried out with similar resistance, as can a backwards (extension) neck exercise.

Back Pain and Neck Pain When Driving

Hip flexors are particularly prone to problems from spending too much time sitting in traffic. This is even more the case where a person spends most of the day sitting in the office and then simply moves from the desk to the car to the sofa. When sitting, the main hip flexor is in a shortened position which can pull on the lower back and lead to lumbar stiffness over long periods. Lower back tension is often a cause of upper back pain and neck pain as it can create postural abnormalities and stresses further up the spine.

A pelvic tilt performed in the car, when stationary in traffic, can help stretch out the hip flexors and relieve tension in the lower back. This stretch also helps relieve some of the tightness in the hamstrings which are attached to the bottom of the pelvis and which are tight when sitting. A pelvic tilt can be done by pressing the back into the seat of the car in such a way that the back is flattened against the seat. Then roll the pelvis forward so that the seat bones are bearing your weight. The arch created in the back helps relieve tension on the hamstrings and hip flexors and the combination of flattening and arching helps strengthen the lower back muscles . It also helps to carry out pelvic tilts and hamstring stretches prior to getting in the car and on driving breaks to really keep the spine happy.

Strengthening Core Muscles and Taking Breaks from Driving

Having a healthy and strong core muscle set is also important in reducing back strain and a simple traffic exercise of pulling in the abdominal muscles can help support the spine (as well as keep that tummy trim). Other top tips for relieving neck stiffness and pain whilst driving include making sure that you are not sitting in a draught for long periods of time as this can cause you to unconsciously tighten the muscles in the neck.

Taking regular breaks is also important, as is having rear-view mirrors set at the right height so you’re not having to strain to see them. If you find yourself peering forwards over the steering wheel then it might be time to get a sight test as this could mean you are straining to see; it might also mean that your chair is tilted too far back or is too far away from the steering wheel. Get someone to take a picture of you sitting in the car (with the door open) and you should have a better insight into any problems with your driving posture. In addition, try to carry out stretching and strengthening exercises outside of the car in order to keep the back and neck supple as this will help reduce the risk of neck pain and tension from driving. Neck exercises whilst stuck in traffic are great for those pushed for time or who spend lengthy periods on the road and may be just the ticket for relieving neck pain.


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