I was recently asked to write an article on the Best Postural Tips for Driving (a car…not a golf ball). Though I am no postural or ergonomic expert, there are certainly some basic postural rules I see broken all the time that feed the pain cycle. Here is a re-post of that article. Hope it’s helpful…
We sit too much. It’s just that simple. What’s more?…we sit incorrectly most of the time. The result? Pain, tingling, numbness, loss of muscular function. While our bodies were made with an incredible design and ability to handle mechanical loads and stress, if we load them inappropriately our bodies lose the ability to disseminate stress. Unfortunately, even if we maximize posture and minimize stress, if we load our bodies in the same patterns too often, we still get breakdown (anybody have carpal tunnel syndrome from typing, mousing or texting?).
The goal is to create an environment within the vehicle that will allow the body to maintain the most erect/neutral spine (all 4 curves that should be present are: cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral). Here are 5 tips to help create that environment:
1. Invest in a Lumbar Support Pillow: these can often be found at Back Health stores or even Bed, Bath & Beyond or Marshall’s.
Why? Many back health issues occur in the lumbar (lower back) spine. Often the site of posterior disc bulges/herniations/ruptures, our seated posture only feeds the pain and problem. Since many of us sit at desks all day (with poor posture), adding a support to the lumbar spine that will help maintain an erect spine and limit posterior disc pressure while driving can be extremely helpful.
2. Elbow angle should be approximately 90-135˚: Set the steering wheel so that elbows are approximately at 90-135˚ angle with hands resting on steering wheel. While not possible with all steering wheels (may not have the anterior-posterior adjustment), you should do your best to use the height and seat back adjustments to create that angle.
Why? If the steering column is too close it can create an elevated (shrugged) shoulder posture that increase upper back and shoulder tension as well as neck tension. It can also require greater than normal movement patterns into internal and external shoulder rotation while making turns. If the steering wheel is too far away in often creates the common “slouched” or “slumped” forward posture most noted by a rounding of the shoulders. Even though the opposite extreme of the elevated shoulder, many of the repercussions are the same (upper back and neck tensions).
3. Hip angle should be set at 90-110˚: Set the seat bottom and back so that your hip angle is between 90-110˚. Due to different car makes and models as well as your individual hamstring flexibility (less flexible people should increase the hip angle), you will have to try various angles to find maximum comfort.
Why? You are looking for a fairly erect posture and spine (not leaning back excessively) without creating undue tension in your hamstrings or hip flexors. Either one can create more lower back pressure or pain.
4. Set your rearview mirror to encourage neutral spine: After you have set the rest of your seat and steering wheel positions you can adjust your rearview mirror. Sit in your seat with a tall neutral spine (be as tall as you comfortably can, but don’t strain or stretch). Once in this position, adjust your rearview mirror so that you can see appropriately out of it.
Why? This is a great reminder while you are driving…if you start to slouch, you can’t see out of your mirror!
5. Don’t sit still! One of the best postural tips I ever learned in a postural seminar is that the best posture is one that always changes. Makes sense if you think about it. Roll your shoulders, pinch your shoulder blades together, nod your head or slight tilt it from side to side, extend/curl/laterally bend your spine, turn your shoulders side to side, rotate your thighs in and out, etc. Find little ways to create subtle movements to give your body a break, restore blood flow and decompress your body’s tissue.
Why? The long you stay in exactly the same position, the longer the same tissues and structures have to manage all the same stress and loads. Spread the wealth…and the pressure. You’ll hurt a lot less.