Our backs are designed to move, so being stuck in an uncomfortable static position while driving for long periods can result in back trouble. However, for anyone who spends a fair amount of time driving each day, whether that’s for a living or a long commute, there are practical steps you can take to prevent back pain and damage.
Firstly, it really pays to get to know your car and learn how to adjust your car seat to avoid long-term issues. It’s important to set up your car seating position correctly before driving as any small irritation can become a major problem over the length of a car journey.
1. Lean back a little
Adjust the back of your seat so that it makes contact with your back from your bottom to your shoulders It should be at about 100 to 110 degrees as reclining too far back will make you strain your neck.
2. Elbows slightly bent
Move the steering wheel up or down to the most comfortable position and distance from your body. Varying your hand position when you are driving can also help to relieve joints and improve circulation.
Slide your seat forwards or backwards so that your elbows are 90 degrees or slightly more when your hands are at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock position on the wheel. There is no single best option, and it may take some effort and trial and error on your part to find what works best for you.
3. Support your spine
Position your bottom all the way to the back of the seat to support the natural ‘S’ shaped curvature of the spine, and adjust your seat so that it supports the full length of your back. Do not have your wallet or mobile in your back pocket as this will shift your pelvis on one side.
4. Gap behind the knee
Make sure the backs of your knees do not touch the car seat bottom, as this is bad for your knees and your circulation. There should be at least a two finger gap between the back of your knee and the seat.
5. Keep feet relaxed
Your feet should be relaxed with your heels on the floor and the balls of the feet able to press the pedals. The right foot should be able to move easily between the accelerator and brake pedal when the heel is placed roughly in front of the brake pedal. The left foot should be resting on the footrest whenever you are not using the clutch, as this increases support to both the pelvis and back. In this respect, automatic cars have an inherent advantage over manual cars.
6. Position the seat base
Traditionally, the seat base is set with the rear of the seat down and the front uppermost. This position is often recommended as it helps to stop you from moving forward on the seat, or ‘submarining’, when you brake or in the event of an accident. However, modern car seats have largely overcome this problem with the addition of seat belt pre-tensioners, which stop you from slipping under the seat belt, and the backwards angle has actually been shown to decrease the hip angle and increase the pressure on your lower back/spine. Instead, you should position the seat base horizontally whenever possible.
7. Set your headrest
Adjust your headrest so that the mid-portion of the back of your head meets the middle of the cushion when you rest your head back. The headrest needs to be close enough to the back of your head to prevent a whiplash injury occurring.
8. Adjust your mirrors
Position your mirrors so that you can easily see all around without straining your back or neck. Set the mirrors at the start of a journey when you’re sitting tall and upright. As the journey continues and you settle into the seat, it will remind you to draw yourself up tall again
9. Take breaks
Take regular breaks every two to three hours, so that you can move your back, hips and knees. Even a few minutes of walking or stretching will improve your concentration and make the rest of your journey more comfortable.
10. Lifting items out of the car
If your job also involves lifting items in and out of your vehicle, ensure you move around a little and get your lower back warmed up before you lift. One of the most common causes of lower back pain is reaching into the boot of the car or the back seat of the car when parked in an awkward car parking space, which then makes lifting a struggle. Think where you place items in the car, remembering that they may shift as you drive.
Considerations when changing your car
If you’re looking to change your car and have been suffering with lower back pain, maybe you should consider buying an automatic car. As you press your foot down on the clutch of a manual car, the muscles around the pelvis and hips automatically tense to stop them shifting sideways and this may well cause some pain. Something else to think about is having heated seats, as people with back pain often find this helps to alleviate their symptoms.
If you frequently have to lift things out of the boot of the car or have a dog, why not consider buying a car without a lip on the boot to allow you to slide things out easily.
For more information on posture or to book an appointment in Bridgnorth or Shrewsbury, please call 01746 761050.