If you are experiencing back pain, you may be asking yourself whether it is wise to drive.
There are two important considerations when deciding whether to drive with back pain:
- Am I fit to drive without being a risk to myself and others?
- Will driving aggravate or worsen my pain?
Am I Fit to Drive?
The highway codes simply says “Make sure that you are fit to drive… don’t begin if you are tired, and minimize sleepiness with breaks, rest & stop if you’re tired and drink 2 cups of coffee”. It does go on to say “You MUST NOT drive under the influence of drugs or medicine”.
Some further questions I’d like you to ask yourself:
- Would I feel happy to do an emergency stop?
- Can I turn my neck comfortably to rotate and see properly?
- Am I able to concentrate and drive safely?
- Can I sit comfortably enough to control the vehicle?
- Will driving worsen my back pain?
If the answer to any of the above is no, or indicates that your back would get worse, then I suggest you don’t drive!
Caution: driving while taking painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs
My take is that you should be extra cautious with using anti-inflammatories and strong painkillers or tranquilizers, especially if they make you feel drowsy.
Over the counter or even prescribed painkillers are stronger now than they once were, and along with drowsiness they doubtless slow your reactions.
Look after yourself if you’re in pain
I think the expression “stress makes us stupid” is all too true. Sometimes when we’re in pain we don’t think clearly and we need to be told to look after ourselves. I’m referring to the common situation where clients come in with acute pain and are not in a fit state to work or drive, yet expect to carry on as if they are in perfectly good health! Unfortunately, I have all too often treated clients who I don’t think should be driving. I once saw a patient with almost no movement in their neck in any direction; most unusual. As it turned out, he had viral meningitis and was still driving… I rest my case. Please be careful!
I’m all for keeping active and moving gently or even working if this is appropriate. The general guidelines for back pain are to keep active as much as possible – but not if you risk injuring yourself further or risk hurting others because you’re not fit to work or drive.
Driving while tired
If you’re tired, I personally am not sure that coffee alone is really a sensible answer… To be safe, stop and rest; probably more than you think you should.
Learning to say “no!”
It’s often not wanting to let others down that forces us to keep going despite the pain. The two most common cases of this are going to work when you’re not fit and driving off to visit the relative or friend you promised to visit because you don’t want to upset them. This is, once again, crackers thinking. They would be completely understanding and want you to take care of yourself. They may even be offended that you thought that you would upset them by cancelling. Occasionally, of course, it’s a one-off event you’ll regret missing, a wedding perhaps, and then you’ll have to just go and make provisions to take it easy, rest out, find a chauffeur or just attend for a short while.
I do understand sometimes you may have to drive when you’d rather not – an important job interview or your daughter’s wedding – and no other form of transport is feasible, in which case please just be careful and give yourself longer to take breaks.