Using a Lumbar Roll to Deal with Low Back Pain

Posted on July 25, 2014


Article written by: Jim Storhok DPT, ATC

They say that April showers bring May flowers, and vacation time for most people is rapidly approaching! This is the time of year where families pile into the car and head away to their favorite vacation spot, cottage, or amusement park.  Those places are always so much more enjoyable if, when you arrive, you feel good. Unfortunately, it is all too common to hear that there is some form of back pain that is experienced after long car or plane rides. That possibility increases if there is any preexisting low back pain that someone is dealing with.  What I would like to discuss is a very simple tool that one can use to avoid either exacerbating preexisting low back pain or prevent low back pain from originating during a long trip. That object is called a lumbar roll.

A lumbar roll is an object that is shaped like a small log, but feels like a semi firm pillow. This roll is placed width wise along the belt line, just above where your  butt is. Make sure that your butt is as far back into the crease of the seat, and have the back to the car seat as vertical as you can tolerate. The more the back of the seat is tipped back, the higher the likelihood that you will be slumping.  The idea is that the lower back likes to be in what is called anatomical neutral, or positioned so that there is a small arch in the lower back region. If your back is positioned like this, the stress and weight of your upper body is evenly distributed across the lower back bones, and one can prevent exacerbation of low back pain. Unfortunately, gravity never stops pulling on our bones, and our bodies are inherently lazy. We eventually are going to start slumping in the car, which means we lose that small curvature and, instead of sitting on our butt bones, we sit on our tailbone. This causes a stretching of our low back tissue, causing increased pain. If you are in this position too frequently, you can start to break down your disks, and possibly contribute to a disk bulge.

You can purchase lumbar rolls either at a medical equipment store, or check with your physical therapist. Some offices will carry these for convenience for their patients. One way that you can make your own temporary roll is to take a fluffy bath towel and fold it in half lengthwise. Next, roll the folded towel and rubber band both ends to secure it. The size of the roll can vary, depending on how big you are, so if it is not comfortable, bring it to your healthcare professional for it to be evaluated for appropriateness. Many times, your back will feel better if you use the lumbar roll in conjunction with sitting on firmer surfaces. Softer surfaces such as couches or lazy boy chairs don’t support a neutral lower back very well, so this can exacerbate or contribute to low back pain if proper posture is not maintained.

As always, if you have any specific questions regarding your personal situation or healthcare needs, speak directly with your family physician or physical therapist. T

Talk to you again next month!