man resting head and arms on steering wheel of car

Summer road trips are a great way to spend time with the kids and renew your knowledge of and love for this great country of ours. From Columbia, SC, drive south to see St Augustine, FL, the oldest city in the US. Drive north to see Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Drive west to follow in the footsteps of American pioneers. But if you’re developing a sore neck, jaw pain, or sore legs on your road trip, it can make it hard to enjoy yourself. Here are some tips to help you overcome this discomfort so you can enjoy your vacations.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Sleeping properly allows your body to heal and prepare for the day ahead. If you’re not getting a good night’s sleep, it can set you up for a bad day in the car. You can also experience discomfort if you are sleeping awkwardly or in an uncomfortable position.

Hotel beds can be uncomfortable, so try to pick a chain that has comfortable beds, and, if necessary, pack your own pillow. A pillow can be especially helpful for jaw and neck pain. You have adapted your sleeping position to your normal pillow, and sleeping in a different position can put extra stress on your neck and jaw.

Stretch before Getting in the Car

Driving can be a workout, and if you’re not stretching before you get in the car, you can set yourself up for sore muscles. Stretch your back, neck, jaw, and arms. Don’t forget your legs. You might not think your left leg is doing much (unless you’re driving stick), but maintaining a position in a restricted space for hours at a time is hard work.

Make Sure Your Seat Supports You

If your car seat isn’t properly designed or adjusted, it makes your body work harder to support itself. This can lead to increased soreness. Adjust your headrest to support you, put the seat in a proper position, and, if necessary, get a cushion to help support your lumbar region. Do this before you set out from Columbia, SC, but adjust it at any time if you start to get sore.

Put the steering wheel in the proper position for keeping your hands in a comfortable angle. Make sure you can clearly see all the instruments on your display without tilting your head and neck. Adjust your mirrors for optimum visibility. You’ll still want to check your blind spots before turns and lane changes, but you’ll feel better if you’re not constantly craning your neck to see around the car.

Adjust the seat for optimal leg room. Make sure your legs are comfortable through the common range of action distance.

Take Frequent Breaks

Remember what we said about driving being exercise? When exercising, you have to take regular breaks. With driving, you should take a break at least every two hours. At a minimum, you should get out, walk around, and stretch. It’s better if you actually spend some time in a diverting activity, and what’s a road trip without a few roadside attractions?

Choose activities that let you walk around and that encourage you to move your head and neck in ways different from the normal driving position.

Try to be active when you reach your destination. Take a walk to get dinner or a treat. Maybe hit the pool or even the gym at the hotel when you arrive. If you are too tired to be active, make sure you’re resting in a different position from driving.


Stress is a major contributor to neck and jaw pain when driving. If you get caught in some bad driving conditions, are trying to meet a tight deadline, or are dealing with rowdy kids in the backseat, your stress level can elevate. This is another good reason to take a break, and also keep a proper perspective: remember that this is a vacation.

You can reduce stress with proper planning. Don’t count on long driving distances every day. Have shorter driving days that let you get more rest to help you recover. Don’t overcrowd your list of things to do and see–you’re on vacation, not working. Prioritize your list of sights and activities so that if you start running behind, you know what to cut. If the kids want to choose an activity you didn’t plan for, make it clear that this will mean giving up something else so you can avoid fights and tantrums. You never want to have to threaten kids, “I’ll turn this car around and drive all the way back to Columbia, SC!”

Treat Pain as It Starts

Pain can get worse if you don’t treat it right away. Take some ice from the cooler to make an ice pack on the road. Take some ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to help cut off muscle soreness right away. Remember, though, don’t use an ice pack for more than 15 minutes at a stretch, and never exceed recommended dosage for any medication.

When you get to the hotel room, you can treat sore muscles with moist heat, too. For sore neck and jaw muscles, soak a washcloth in warm water. For sore leg muscles, consider taking a bath or seeing if the hotel has a hot tub.

Talk to a Columbia, SC TMJ Dentist

If neck or jaw pain is a chronic problem, or if it seems to be getting worse, you may have TMJ. Consulting with a Columbia, SC dentist can help you learn about the best TMJ treatment options to prevent you from developing neck and jaw pain so you’re more comfortable in many activities, not just driving.

For an appointment with a Columbia, SC TMJ dentist, please call Smile Columbia Dentistry at (803) 781-9090.