Driving and back pain
Driving is a tricky subject, we all do it, some for longer than others and at some stage we all feel the effects of driving. Whether it’s your daily commute or a longer drive to see family or friends it can all rack up and put more stress on your spine and your health.
Why does it create strain?
Sitting creates strain on the spine, that’s why we advise people to take a break from sitting every 45 – 60 minutes. When we drive we usually are not sitting in the optimal position for our bodies. Generally, the sportier your car the worse the position is likely to be due to space constraints.
Sitting in the car creates a lot of strain in two key areas the low back/pelvis and the neck. The low back is affected as the normal curve (lordosis) is usually reduced – the aim of a lumbar support is to maintain the curve while you are sitting. The second area affected is the neck, I think part of this is because we are so focused on the low back we ignore the fact that we sit in our cars with our heads poking forward – this increases the strain onto the neck as your body has to work harder to keep your head up!
So what can you do to reduce the impact of driving?
1. Take 30 seconds to sort out your car!
This is really important if you share a car, put the mirrors, seat and back support into the correct position FOR YOU. If you don’t you will be under/over-stretching to reach the wheel and pedals.
2. Relax your shoulders.
Make sure you aren’t holding yourself in an artificial position. On your daily commute there’s enough to deal with without overloading your postural muscles and increasing stress on the spine and nervous system. This will also allow you to breath more easily which is always handy.
3. Take regular breaks.
It is always tempting to do a 4 hour journey in one go, I would recommend taking at least one break. You do not need to go into the services and buy a latte and a disposable tooth brush, instead have a brisk walk, do some basic stretches or tai-chi. It will only add 5 minutes to your journey but the difference it will make to your spine will be much greater.
Many cars now come with in built lumbar supports but they may not be suitable for everyone. Although car seat designs have improved significantly they are still built for the masses, or built to fit a ‘standard’ person, as we are all unique it means that for some it will work and others it wont. The solution is simple, a small pillow or a rolled up towel placed in the low back with the purpose of maintaining the curve.
There are two key factors with head rests:
1. The top of the headrest should be level with the top of your head.
2. The head rest should be as close to your head as possible, no more than 10cm from your head.
For some great advice on how to adjust your car seat have a look at the BackCare information sheet