Preventing back pain while driving
Between commuting, leisure and day to day living, people in the UK spend on average of 10-12h sitting behind the wheel a week. For those who use their vehicle to work this average is multiplied by about 5-6 in.
Preserving your body getting in and out of the car.
Whether you are suffering from you back and other injuries or are perfectly fine; getting into in a car can be awkward and can cause some repetitive strain to the body over time. With the steering wheel and pedals in the way, getting in and out of the car can be tricky and so, here are some advice about getting in and out of the car with minimal strain:
- Avoid twisting when getting out of the car. First, gently turn your whole body towards the door, then lower your feet to the ground and then stand up.
- Avoid any twisting when getting into the car. First, sit on the edge of the seat leg facing outward, then bring your leg in while rotating to face the road.
- Space in a vehicle may be restricted, so to avoid straining your body getting in and out of the car you can slide your seat backward when getting in and out of the vehicle, this will preserve your body in the long run.
- When driving a high vehicle, always use the footstep to climb down. It may seem quicker to jump down, but the repeated impact will wear and damage your body over time and may trigger a painful event.
Regardless of travel time and distance, while driving sitting posture can either contribute to or alleviate back problems.
- Don’t slump in the car seat, this is a sure way or hurting yourself over time and get chronic back pain. Slumping may feel very comfortable but this position is very demanding on your back when maintained over extended periods of time. Push your buttocks as close as possible to the angle of the seat and the backrest.
- For those with a height adjustable driver seat, make sure your seat is at a level high enough to position your hips above or at least in line with your knees. If the knees are higher than your hips, it will flatten or flex your spine from its natural curved position into a slump position.
For those without this seat option, you can also use a cushion or a seating wedge to raise
your seating position if required this may be harder to achieve but you can ask a professional to help you pick the right accessory to adjust
- Adjust the back rest support of the seat, so that it provides support along the whole length of your spine up to shoulder level. The lumbar support of the seat should fill the small of your back naturally and there should not be any gaps or overarching of the back. If the gap between your back and the seat remains you can consider using a back support in your car.
- The seat should be upright and not reclined as this will put a lot of pressure on your neck as it is forced to bend forward excessively. Your shoulders should be able to rest comfortably against the backrest and shoulder contact must be maintained with the backrest when the steering wheel is turned. In other words be conscious of not rounding your shoulders forward.
- Adjust seat forward to the point that allows you to easily push down the pedals fully, with a slight bend in the knee and without having to reach with a fully extended knee. If you are reaching, you are rotating your pelvis and overusing you knee and hips leading to strain and bad posture.
- The steering wheel needs to be adjusted, first adjust the height, ensuring that there is sufficient space between the wheel and your legs. Then make sure that you are not too close or too far away from the wheel. Being too close or far away will lead to arm and shoulder strain. Ideally, you should be able to rest your wrists on top of the wheel, with your arms slightly extended (around 120 -140degree) without having to stretch your elbow and shoulder.
If you already suffer from a bad back:
If you have chronic back pain, bringing an ice pack with you will be of great benefit, applying a cold pack can reduce the inflammation and ease sore tissues. Make sure not to use it on bare skin to avoid ice burn.
Here are 2 option to bring a pack with you:
- For short trip or commuting start your trip with an ice pack, and put it into a freezer at your destination if possible, so you have it on the way back.
- Bring a small cooler with you in the car and fill it with a cold pack and ice pack.
Why should you take regular breaks from driving?
Try to take a short break every 2-3h
It’s not just your legs that need a break from driving! The discs rely upon regular movement of the spine for the supply of nutrients. To minimise the risk of lower back pain, avoid sitting still for lengthy periods and take regular exercise breaks. If you cannot leave the car, park somewhere undo your seatbelt and move around in the car.
On top of being good for your health, it will make you safer as it will refresh your ability to focus during a long journey.