Back pain is the most common complaint that prompts people to go see a doctor, and about 90 percent of all Americans will suffer from debilitating back pain at some point in their lives. People who sit at a desk all day frequently complain about it, but those who spend hours driving a car face as much, if not greater, stress on their backs.
Nearly 180 million Americans use driving as their main form of transportation. But few people realize how bad driving can be for the back, especially following a long period behind the wheel. Because most people buy their car for its looks and performance, comfort is not usually a primary concern – but it should be.
Forces at Work While Driving
Car seats may resemble a desk chair while stopped, and some may have a more ergonomic design than others, but when you step on the gas your body is exposed to additional forces, such as:
- Whole-body vibration caused by rumbling of the engine
- Lateral swaying while making a turn, and
- Actively pressing foot pedals when accelerating and decelerating, without being able to brace the lower body like you can in a desk chair.
All of these driving movements can place more stress on the back.
People who drive for work, also known as occupational drivers, frequently suffer back pain.
They have a much greater risk of developing sciatica or lower back pain than people in other professions. Vibrations from a car’s engine can cause disc fluid to leak out from the discs in a person’s spine, exacerbating back pain over time.
Tips for Comfortable Driving
As painful as driving can be for some, there are ways to minimize the pressure from sitting behind the wheel for hours at a time.
Most car seats provide little support for the natural curvature of the back. Engine vibrations can be reduced by adding a seat cushion to the bottom or back of the seat. The lower back can be further supported by rolling up a towel and placing it in the fold of the seat.
Adjust the Seat
Make sure your driver’s seat is properly adjusted. Many people find that a 100-degree angle offers the greatest comfort – but as near a right angle as possible will help support the back. If a seat is reclined too far, your head must be held up off the headrest, adding strain on the neck and upper back from holding the head forward to see the road.
Adjust the Wheel and Mirrors
Vary the position of your steering wheel up or down until you find the most comfortable position. You can also adjust the mirrors to be visible without having to twist or lean.
Use Cruise Control
Additionally, use cruise control whenever possible as it helps to relieve pressure on the lower back from constantly manipulating the pedals in your car.
Take Stretch Breaks
Taking a five-to-10-minute break every hour or so to stretch your legs and back can help decompress your spine from being seated behind the wheel. Squatting with your knees pressed to your chest is one of the best ways to decompress the spine. Twisting the trunk from side to side and rolling your shoulders and neck can help relieve pressure on the body caused by driving.
Use Proper Form
If you lift packages out of your vehicle in addition to driving, be certain to use proper form. Lift from your legs with knees slightly bent to avoid additional pressure on the back. Always lift facing forward – never twisting, leaning, or turning from the side.
Be sure to empty your pockets – especially the back ones – before driving, as items in your pockets can cause you to sit on an angle or cut circulation.
Comprehensive Orthopedic Care in Plano, Texas
If you sit for work – whether at a desk or behind the wheel – and back pain troubles you, contact our expert medical team at Tarpon Orthopedics to learn how to combat your back pain and begin feeling better. We offer a variety of pain management treatments.
To make an appointment at one of our locations in Addison, North Plano, or Plano, call us at (972) 596-1059 or request an appointment online.