The human body is not designed to be in a sitting position for long periods of time. Sitting for prolonged periods can cause low back pain or worsen an existing one. This is because sitting in a static posture puts tremendous stress on the back, shoulders, arms and legs. The back muscles and spinal discs are specially vulnerable. Experts advise standing up, walking around and stretching every 30 minutes to ease the pressure.
This is all very good when you are working at your desk. But when you’re driving and stuck behind the wheel, the dynamics are different all together. It is so unlike sitting in an office chair. According to Alan Hedge, Ph.D. professor of ergonomics at Cornell University, your body is subjected to a lot of different forces in a vehicle - accelerations, side-to-side swaying and vibrations.
In particular, the vibration of the spine affects the discs between your vertebrae which act as shock absorbers and allow spinal movement. Constant vibration can cause damage to these discs. The combination of these conditions while driving and the design of the car seat itself can increase the possibility of developing back problems for some people.
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Car manufacturers have made great strides in creating cars and car seats that are more ergonomically designed to prevent back aches. Yet, there is definitely still room for improvement. However, drivers can also do more to make their drive more comfortable. In an interesting article I read in the The Telegraph, it cited that “Osteopaths and chiropractors agree that many of us are in too much of a hurry to get going rather than taking the time to set the driving position up properly.”
Having said this, what can we do to reduce back pain while driving? Here are some helpful tips:
1. Get Comfortable. Take time to make things right even before you start your journey.
Adjust the mirrors so that you do not move or twist your body or neck to see them. A great gauge to use to know that you have the right mirror angle is if you only have to move your eyes to be able to see out of your mirrors. Another tip is to adjust them while sitting up straight. Somewhere along the trip, you will begin to slouch and lose sight of the mirrors. Setting them when you are sitting up straight will force you to sit up straighter to be able to see out of them. Definitely kinder on your back than slouching.
Adjust the car seat. The backrest should be set at 100 degrees to reduce pressure on the discs. Your head will not be able rest comfortably against the headrest if the seat is reclined too far.
Support the lumbars. If your car does not offer enough lumbar support, a pillow specifically for this would help. However, a rolled up towel or even a sweatshirt placed behind the small of your back will also do the trick.
Adjust the distance of your seat from the steering wheel and the pedals. Ideally, you should be able to reach the steering wheel with your arms slightly bent. Additionally, you should be able to comfortably step on the pedals without over extending your legs.
Remove your wallet and take your cellphone out of your back pocket. It might not seem noticeable but they both can misalign your spine.
2. Keep your feet on the floor. Keep your left foot firmly on the floor when not working the pedal, and if you’re on cruise control, press both feet into the floor so your thighs and shins form a 90 degree angle.
3. Relax your grip. The steering wheel is not going anywhere. Don’t grip the wheel too tightly nor clench your teeth.
4. Wear the right shoes. Choose driving shoes that are not too tight or constricting.
5. Take a break. When going on a long journey, shorten it by taking frequent breaks. If possible, get out of the car to stretch. It also helps to relieve tight neck and shoulder muscles by rolling your shoulders and rolling your neck from side to side.
It is said that four out of five people suffer from lower back pain. Driving might not be the main reason for this but it does not hurt to follow the tips above to make your daily drive more comfortable and kinder on your back.
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