Juliette Kando is a dancer, choreologist, author on fitness and health, and Fellow of the Benesh Institute at the Royal Academy of Dance.
Even though you have a stiff neck or back pain most of the time, you may not feel any pain while driving. For this reason, you may not be aware that your pain could be partially caused by your driving habits. Learn how to get rid of chronic back and neck pain by modifying several small but crucial details in your driving habits, as well as the seating setting in your car, to heal the pain for good.
Internal Car design
Cars today are designed for aerodynamic efficiency and slick-lined looks more than for human comfort. Normal people who have no race-driving aspirations would probably be better off with the very first vintage Ford design, which is basically a few chairs screwed into a box on wheels.
Research indicates that neck pain and backache from driving to the extent of loss of working time is highest among those who drive for more than four hours a day like bus drivers and truck, and taxi drivers. In reality, a twice-daily half-hour journey driven in a poorly aligned and poorly supported position can equally cause the onsets of chronic pain. While automatic (no clutch) cars place less strain on one hip, knee, ankle, and foot, other damaging movements like lifting and carrying merchandise, shopping, and children in and out of cars can soon cause chronic backache. The key is to recognize damaging driving-related movement habits and adjust posture and seat as required.
Three Tips for Comfort in your Car
The car has to have enough height inside to allow you to sit up straight, with enough room above your head to allow for a sudden bump in the road, which will make your whole body jump up, hopefully without touching the ceiling. I am a tall person and have rarely found a car that meets this first requirement, yet it is so crucial, don’t you agree? The height of the headrest should allow the back of your skull to lean while keeping the chin down and eyes on the road.
The second consideration is to demand enough elbow width to be able to move the arms without crashing into the window or some computer lever causing alarms to go off, or some other uninitiated event coming from the car robots.
Thirdly sit in the car, adjust the seating depth so your knees don't touch the steering shaft. Then also adjust the angle of the backrest. Nest yourself in the car seat and go for a test drive. Get your body acquainted to the seat and the dashboard and ask the question: Is this car comfortable? Is it for me? You may need to add an additional backrest to provide adequate back support in your favorite position.
Which is the Best Driving Position?
Drivers’ height, weight, physical proportions, postural, and movement habits are so varied that it is impossible to determine one single “perfect” driving position. Driving positions fall between two extremes: either you are (1) a reclining driver or (2) a sitting-up driver. While most men prefer to almost lie down while driving, women tend to sit up straighter, closer to the steering wheel. In any case, it is essential to support the body in all necessary places to avoid stress and injury from the constant vibration and sudden irregular jerking impact from potholes, or those annoying "sleeping policemen" (i.e., speed bumps) on urban roads.
Why the Back Supports?
All the muscles in your body are ready and alert when you are driving. The trick is to maintain that readiness for action. Quick reflexes are necessary to deal with sudden events occurring outside your control (like a big lorry suddenly coming at you on the wrong side of the road!). In that extreme state of alertness, which in itself puts a lot of effort/stress / strain on the body, you can learn to control which muscles are not needed, which parts of your body can relax. The spine, for one, does not need to be stressfully active during driving. Unless, of course, it is placed in an awkward, uncomfortable position. In this case, the tired muscles that are trying to hold you together lock into spasms or cramps (permanent muscle tension). Such cramping up is not necessarily felt as pain while you are sitting in the car. Later, when you start to move you feel the pain. This is why back and neck pain is not easily associated with driving.
Adjust the seat and, if necessary, use a car seat cushion, bolster, car back support, and place it strategically in the lower back to allow your body to be comfortable and relaxed while driving.
1. The Reclined Position
The reclined driving position may seem the most comfortable but look at the angle of the upright neck against the angle of the spine to be able to see the traffic. Due to tensing the neck and shoulders, many such drivers suffer from neck and shoulders pain. A car seat support behind the neck and lower back would improve the situation.
Reclined drivers sit on the lower back rather than the sitting bones. With their legs almost extended they put unnecessary strain on the back muscles to reach for the pedals. In the reclined position, the force needed to push the pedals comes from an uneconomical, almost horizontal angle instead of a more efficient straight downward force into gravity as in the next picture. If you are a reclined kind of driver, then at least make sure that your seat is appropriately fitted with lower back support. Now let us look at the upright driving position.
2. The Upright Driving Position
Angle your seat. The back of your seat should be adjusted to allow you to sit upright properly. Sit as far back as possible in the seat, holding your pelvis straight, feeling your sitting bones. Now your entire upper body weight rests on the sitting bones rather than your tail.
Use a car seat back support to straighten your lower back and to fill up the curves between you and the seat. With your thighs fully supported by the chair seat, the feet should be able to rest flat on the floor. In this position, much less effort is required to push the pedals as the force is coming down rather than horizontally as in the previous method.
Adjusting Your Car Seat
Good Driving Tips
- Comfort and economy of movements are your targets in your search for the best driving position.
- On long journeys, change driving positions from between 1 and 2, always with appropriate support.
- Use cruising to allow you to put both feet on the floor, wriggle your toes and re-distribute your weight and balance.
- Don’t grip the wheel too tightly or grind your teeth.
- Sit close enough to the wheel so that your elbows are not locked straight but bent, relaxed.
- Wear comfortable shoes that are not too tight.
- Take hindering accessories off, wallets out of pockets, loosen tight belts, zips and buttons.
- Shorten the journey, take frequent breaks.
- When you get a chance get out of the car. Walk, do neck rolls, bend and stretch, look up to the sky, spread your wings, roll down a grassy hill, get up and swirl around...
- Relax and sing on longer journeys.
Once you know how to adjust your driving position and driving habits, back and neck pain from driving can be prevented and cured, never to return.
Best Ways to Cure Back and Neck Pain
1. Gravity Inversion
When you get home from a long, painful car journey, let go of all tension on a Gravity Inversion Table. A gravity inversion table allows the body to fully relax at a downward angle, taking advantage of gravity to re-align all the joints and regain the space due between the spinal and neck vertebrae. It only takes a few minutes and when you come off the gravity inversion table you feel stretched up, loose in the bones, very tall, and as light as a feather. The feeling is totally exhilarating and energizing. Find out more about hanging upside down from the links at the end of this article.
Where to Get a Gravity Inversion Table?
2. Gentle Traction on the Yoga Swing
Alternatively, or just for a change, why not try a few safe moves on a Yoga Swing to iron out all the knots in your painful muscles from driving for hours. Not only is a Yoga Swing an extremely effective piece of exercise equipment, it is so much fun to use, experimenting with it makes you feel like a child again or like a monkey playing in the trees. Find out more about Yoga Swings from the links at the end of this article.
No Pain, Just Gain!
Find out more about hanging upside down from the links at the end of tis article.
Where to Get an Aerial Yoga Inversion Swing?
Chronic back and neck pain can come from driving. Addictive painkillers won't cure or prevent back and neck pain from driving. Actually, painkillers that numb the pain are dangerous because when you don't feel the pain you are inclined to use your body in a way that will worsen the condition. Besides, painkillers are well known for their nasty side effects.
All you need to do to avoid having back and neck pain ever again is to adjust your driving position and slightly modify your driving habits. How do you get into your car? How do you get out? How do you lift out the kids, dogs, and the shopping? With a relaxed driving position and the occasional use of a gravity inversion table and/or a yoga swing to get you moving well again, you will soon feel like the king or queen of the road—and never have pain again.
Good luck with changing your driving habits, and please share your thoughts or ask questions in the comments discussion below.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 Juliette Kando FI Chor
Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on December 31, 2014:
Hi, Sue! This is great information - I am going to try these tricks for the symptoms I think I'm feeling from sitting in one position too long on the couch (and I need to correct that habit!). Once I started working from home, I became a sloth. Time for New Year's resolution, I think!
Voted up and useful!
Juliette Kando FI Chor (author) from Andalusia on July 12, 2013:
Back pain is caused by both working environment and driving style. Throughout the day, a little more body awareness on posture and movement habits helps a long way towards prevention and recovery from chronic pain. Improvement involves taking responsibility, self education and practice.
John Ashmit from New Delhi on July 12, 2013:
Got a great reading stuff. My uncle suffering usually from back pain. I thought this is because of their working culture but seems it may be their driving style.
natures47friend from Sunny Art Deco Napier, New Zealand. on July 04, 2012:
Great tips. I used to regularly travel 4 hour trips early in the morning and never wanted to stop so I'd get there quicker.
Love the rolling on grass idea! Voted up and awesome.