Tips for Pain Free Driving
Road trip season is right around the corner, and your car seat could end up being a major contributor to aches and pains if you aren’t careful.
I want to talk first about how to set up your car seat appropriately to minimize stress on your spine. After that I will talk about a few exercises you can do when you’re in your car to keep you out of pain.
These tips are great for driving in general, but will be especially helpful if you are going on a trip of more than an hour or two.
The easiest way to get your seat in the right position is to start with the seat slid all the way back, the back of the seat completely upright (12 o’clock position), and if the bottom of your seat can be adjusted put it as low as you can and make sure it is flat.
First adjust the height of your seat, either by adjusting it if that is available, or by adding a cushion. Proper seat height will allow you to see all of the instruments in the gauge cluster and put your hip joint at the same height as your knees. Being up so high that you have to bend your head to see out the windows or to look at your mirrors can be problematic as well, so make sure to have it set correctly.
Next move the seat forward to the position which allows you to fully depress each pedal without your butt coming away from the back of the seat. From this position your knees should be slightly bent with the pedals all the way in. This position will decrease your chances of hurting your knees in the event of a collision and allow proper blood flow to the legs in the resting position.
After that adjust the seat back to a comfortable position between the 12 o’clock and 1 o’clock position (assuming that the 9 o’clock position is toward the front of the vehicle). Having the seat too far back will increase the load on spinal discs which are already at risk for injury due to road vibration.
Adjust your headrest to where the top is toward the middle of your head or slightly higher.
If your seat has a lumbar support adjustment put it to a comfortable level to where your back is not arched, or too flat. Lumbar supports for car seats are readily available if not, or you can use a rolled up towel in a pinch!
Now adjust your steering wheel. Proper steering wheel height will allow you to hold the steering wheel at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions with a slight bend in your elbows. This position should also allow you to see all of the instruments without them being obscured by the wheel.
If your steering wheel has a telescoping feature you can use it to bring the wheel closer or further away from you. Ideally speaking you should be able to rest your wrists comfortably on top of the steering wheel without having to stretch or move your back away from the seat.
The center of the wheel should be about a foot to no more than a foot and a half away from the center of your chest to allow for proper inflation of the air bag with minimal risk of injury.
Finally make sure to adjust your mirrors to minimize your blind spots. Ideally you actually won’t be able to see your own car in the side mirrors when adjusted correctly. This diagram explains best why.
Be sure to keep your left foot on the dead plate for support and stability, and use the cruise control intermittently during longer trips on open road to prevent fatigue and overuse injuries of the foot, ankle and leg.
Driving can be a pretty passive activity and you’re going to want to make sure to do some exercises from time to time to keep proper muscle tone and posture through your trip.
One simple exercise for your upper body and neck is while holding the wheel at 9 and 3 roll the points of your shoulders towards the center of the steering wheel as you breathe out, then roll your shoulders back, pressing your shoulder blades into the seat as you inhale.
Do this exercise slowly and perform 4 repetitions once an hour. You can also do this with each arm individually which should work different parts of your spine.
Another good exercise is very similar to Cat-Cow stretches in yoga. You will start by rounding your upper spine into the seat as you exhale, then arching back into the seat as you inhale. Repeat this motion about 4 times.
Lastly, you can do simple pelvic tilts by drawing your tailbone down and towards the front of the car as you exhale then pressing your tailbone into the seat back as you breathe in. Repeat this motion 4 or more times every hour or so as well.
For longer trips be sure to stop every few hours to get out and stretch and walk around for a few minutes. If you have to unload anything after a long trip, give your body a few minutes to adjust to being out of the car seat before lifting anything heavy.
Be sure to retrieve any items out of the back seat by twisting back to get them.
I hope these tips help make your next trip or your daily commute a little less painful.