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To Grandmother's House We Go! Essential Stretches For Long Travels

Over the river and through the woods, you go? It's that time of the year again! Long car rides are among the most common shared experiences we all have. While the days of fighting your sibling for being on "your side" or asking over and over, "are we there yet?" may be Christmas Past, my patients remind me daily that the aches and pains associated with long rides are definitely Christmas Present. In honor of the holidays, and the traveling that accompanies them, we have created this list of essential stretches to help with of your Christmas Futures.

1. Your Hips (and glutes!) Don't Lie:

And what they tell you after sitting for hours in the car is, 'I'm tight! Move me'. At your next gas stop or rest area, try this stretch using the floor of your car or the opened floor of your hatchback. 

Lift one leg, bent at the knee and set your foot on the elevated area. Lunge into the position, making sure to protect your knee by keeping it behind your toes. You can opt to lift the opposite arm up above your head in a straight line and lean in for a more thorough stretch. (image 1)

For gummed up glutes, look for an elevated area (an open trunk, or even stacked suitcases!) and place your leg (foot to knee) across it at a 90 degree angle. Please refer to the picture above (image 2). Remember to keep your hips squared off, and lean forward carefully until you achieve enough of a stretch. 

2. Locked up wrists got you feeling handcuffed?:

Wrists easily take on the the strain of driving, becoming frozen, stiff or just plain tense. Gripping the steering wheel tightens both the flexor and extensor muscles in an isometic contraction. Try letting go of tight grips on the wheel while driving and then press against the wheel in these positions. Do as much as needed for longer trips.

Rotate wrists backward and forward, very lightly push them against the steering wheel or other static object. Repeat as needed to remain loose (images 3 and 4). 

3. Tightness in the chest - not the kind induced by in-laws:

As with the wrists, the tension from driving tightens your chest additionally. This tends to cause your shoulder girdle, upper back area and traps to all roll forward. That can also lead to incorrect posture, neck pain and even headaches BEFORE you get to the gathering! 

For this stretch, begin with one arm reaching out and pressing against another sturdy object (your car door or a pillar at the gas station, for example). Carefully and slowly, twist against the object. You're looking to feel a stretch across your chest (pectoralis major and minor). Continue to breath slowly and deeply, this releases SCM(STERNO CLEIDO MASTOIDIUS) muscle and the scalenes in the neck. Feel free to experiment with this stretch, raising and lowering your arm to see where your chest and pectoralis muscles will most benefit. (image 5)

4. Have a stiff neck?:

Is anything worse than a stiff neck while driving? Not only does it hurt, but it can impair your ability to correctly see and respond to traffic around you. While seated, but NOT DRIVING, place your opposite arm over the side of the neck you're stretching, at the base of your head, and gently bring your head toward your shoulder. Place the arm you are NOT stretching underneath your behind.  Remember to sit up straight. (image 6)

Wherever you find yourself this busy season, we hope these stretches will help keep you looser and more able to roll with whatever life and the holidays throw at you!