Generally speaking driving is not good for our spines, our spines like movement and when driving they are very stationary, with very little space. Yet they are subjected to constant low vibration and jolting, which spines don't like, as well as certain muscle groups being used repetitively.
Have you thought of how your seat position and how it's set up? Often you can make simple changes yourself. In my experience quite apart from the seat set up there are two main types of commonly seen poor driving positions.
- The relaxed or race position - these are the people who adopt the 'relaxing at home on the sofa'. The backrest of the seat should be around 100 degree angle to the seat, however, many people have the backrest at 120-130 degrees, so there is often a gap at the bottom of the seat with no support for the lower back and the head tips forward slightly to compensate. These people often suffer with chronic neck and shoulder pain, headaches and lower back pain. Often these people also have to overstretch to depress the pedals, which causes overuse of the hamstrings in the back of the legs and the buttocks.
- The leaning forward position – this is the driver that commonly looks like they're sitting on top of the steering wheel. They grip the wheel tightly, lean forward and hunch their shoulders up, often protruding their chin forwards. Some of these people can also brace through their lumbar spine too and arch their back; this causes the small muscles in the lower back to get overworked along with their hip flexors at the front of the hip and groin. The results of driving in this position are headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain and or low back pain.
So how do you have the correct driving posture?
- THE BACK REST: Should be around 100 degrees, not bolt upright, but what feels comfortable for you. Sit with your buttocks as close as possible to the back rest, and adjust the distance to the pedals so your legs are slightly bent when you press the pedal to the floor.
- LOW BACK: If you have an adjustable lumbar support, use it, if not use a small cushion. Make sure that the support is in the natural curvature of your lower back.
- SEAT HEIGHT: The seat should be high enough for your hips to be in line with your knees and your view out of the window halfway between the top of the windscreen and the steering wheel. Us a cushion to elevate if you are shorter.
- ARM POSITION: Your arms should be bent at a 30-40 degree angle and should be able to reach the top of the steering wheel easily without having to move your head or shoulders off the backrest.
- LEG POSITION: Adjust the distance to the seat so your legs are slightly bent when you press the pedals to the floor. Also adjust the tilt of the seat to help you easily press the pedals to the floor. Your thighs should rest lightly on the seat cushion without pressing on it.
- SEAT LENGTH: If possible adjust the length of the seat cushion (not all cars have this facility) to ensure that the backs of your thighs are in contact with the cushion almost up to the back of the knee. The distance between the back of the seat and your knees should be 2-3 fingers wide.
- HEAD REST: The upper edge of the head rest should be aligned with the top of your head.
- FEET POSTION: Supporting your spine starts with bottom-up leverage from your feet. Your feet need to be placed on a firm surface and at the right height to avoid transferring stress to your lower back. It is ideal to have your knees at a right angle.
Finally, take regular breaks when you are on a long journey. If you find yourself stuck in traffic often, do some shoulder shrugs rolling the shoulders forwards and backwards and neck rotations etc. if it is safe to do so, i.e. when you are stationary in heavy traffic!
If you'd like to know more please feel free to email, or speak to any our experienced team of Osteopaths at the Centre, or see our page on osteopathy.