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6 simple car exercises to avoid a painful road trip

By The Health News Team | Updated November 9, 2023
Two male friends relaxing in the car on a road trip.

Road trips are all the rage this holiday season. According to a recent survey, more than half of Americans plan to hit the highways between Thanksgiving and mid-January. But while road trips offer family together time and visits to new and familiar places, they can be a literal pain.

Keeping our bodies in the same position for a prolonged period can cause neck stiffness, lower back discomfort, knee pain and muscle cramps due to the lack of movement. Incorporating regular intervals of physical activity during a road trip can get the blood pumping and stimulate muscles while in the car.

“There is a significant risk of deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots, during long road trips,” says Dr. Harbinder Chadha, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. “When blood moves too slowly through your veins, it can be the source of a stroke or heart attack. The best things you can do is to take an aspirin before your trip, make a stop to stretch or walk outside of your car every 1 to 2 hours to get your heart rate and blood pressure up, and do frequent exercises in the car to get your venous blood going.”

Dr. Chadha recommends 6 simple exercises for drivers and passengers to ease their travel aches and pains:

1. Ankle pumps
With feet flat on the floor, lift one foot slightly up. Point the toes down as far as possible. Relax the ankle then point toes upward. Repeat this motion 20 times on each foot. This exercise will increase movement to the ankle joint.

2. Seated knee lifts

This exercise can be done by a passenger or the driver when safely parked at a rest stop. Sit up straight with legs at a 90-degree angle. While keeping the core engaged, gently pull both knees toward the chest. Hold this position for 10 seconds and release. Repeat 15 times to stimulate hip flexors and abdominal muscles.

3. Seated side bend

In a seated position, raise hands in the air above the head, keeping the spine straight. Bend slowly to the right side, then return to a neutral, upright position. Switch to the left side. The deeper the bend, the deeper the stretch. Repeat 20 times to loosen the spine and torso.

4. Forearm exercises

Wrap fingers around a round object, such as a tennis ball, and squeeze tightly for 2 seconds, then release. Repeat 15 times on each hand.

5. Chin tucks

Bring the chin to the chest. Hold for 5 seconds and slowly lift the head so that it gently presses against the headrest. This exercise can help maintain proper posture and exercise the neck muscles.

6. Seated glute stretch

While seated, bring the right ankle onto the left thigh, resting it just above the knee. Keep your back straight and lean slightly forward, stretching the gluteus maximus muscle. Hold this position for 20 seconds and then repeat the motion on the left side.

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