22/07/2013 Gavin

Lower Back Pain and Driving

Driving causes lower back pain in so many people.  Why?  And what can you do about it?  Read on…

Most people don’t give enough thought to the ergonomics of their car seats.  Automotive designers make them look attractive and comfortable, but in most cases the car seat position and design pays more attention to the aesthetics of the car than it does to the anatomy of the driver.  The car seat – like any other seat in an ideal world – should support you in a position which minimises the strain on your muscular and skeletal systems.  However, lower back pain is more common amongst people who drive for long periods than it is in those who sit in office chairs for long periods.  This may be partly due to accelerator/clutch use and the psychological stresses of driving (and for drivers of big plant machinery it’s due to “bad vibrations”), but it’s also due to the physical stresses most car seats place on us.

In the vast majorities of cars your “sitting bones” (I hate this phrase, as your pelvis didn’t evolve to be sat upon!), are lower than your knees.  One effect of this is that your lower back (lumbar spine) is thrown into flexion (bent forwards).  This places a greater compressive load on your discs and stretches and fatigues your muscles and ligaments – so they ache!  If you do this for long enough, or often enough, eventually something will be strained and the result is often pain.  Driving for long distances often precipitates a worsening of a pre-existing lower back problem.  Lumbar disc problems in particular tend to be aggravated by this driving position.

Sitting in this position also throws your upper back into a forward slump and rounds your shoulders which often causes neck and shoulder pain.

What to do:

  • Try to get your bottom as high as your knees.  If you’ve head-room to play with then put a folded up towel or small cushion under your bottom.  Some car seats rise up and bring your bottom to the same height as your knees – use this function.
  • Have your back support leaning back at about 110 degrees to the horizontal.
  • Ensure your elbows are at around 130 degrees when at the 10 to 2 position.
  • If you need it, put a little support in the small of your back.
  • Take frequent breaks on long journeys – get out and walk around.
  • When sitting stationary (e.g. at traffic lights), clench and relax your buttocks repeatedly to get the circulation moving again.  “Roll” your legs from side to side.

And if all else fails, and your back is still sore – give us a ring!

You can find more helpful tips in this very good article from the guys at Foray Motor Group.