Updated: May 2
Sometimes when I drive a lot, (which I do all day every day it seems), I will get back pain while driving. I want to share with you how our car chairs can lead to low back, hip, middle back, and even neck and shoulder pain. Now-a-days the new car seats have lumbar support that you can change to assist your low back; however, the ole Mazda was made before those times and so the struggle is real. There are also a lot of new features to seatbelts with how they fit and help with uprightness. However for the most part our seats force us into a flexed or rounded shoulder bad posture position which can strain our low back, middle back, shoulders, neck, and even hips.
We tend to sit with our knees coming together which puts an increase strain on our hip and low back which can lead to pain. Sometimes we don’t have the mobility to be in that position for that long. For others, we DO have the mobility, but we’re putting so much strain at our hip and low back for such a long time that we increase tension in our joints, tendons, ligaments, and even our nerves. People who experience nerve pain may notice numbness and tingling or shooting or radiating pain in their leg.
Lucky for you, I have a few tips for driving to prevent hip, low back, and middle back pain, so let's talk about a few.
Working on upright posture to decrease back pain while driving
I find myself slouching and having my head forward all of the time. An easy way to fix this is by using your headrest. If you keep you head gently pressing back against the headrest and your face forward, you will decrease the strain on your body and how much your muscles have to work to keep you upright. More than likely, you will start driving, thinking about something else and then forget all about your posture and headrest, but do your best to correct your posture when you realize it to give your body a break.
Another thing you can do at every red light is a few shoulder blade squeezes. Pinch your shoulder blades together, hold them there and relax. You may feel a stretch across your chest or tension in your middle back because you have stiffness there. Try to incorporate the shoulder blade squeezes at every red light to decrease the tension on your back and neck.
Improve your positioning
Aligning your hips, knees, and ankles
The next thing you can work on is positioning. Working on your seat position and relative position of your hips, knees, and ankles. You want your hip, knee, and ankle (especially of your driving foot) to be in a straight line. If you look down and your knee is in or out (usually it tends to go in), you need to adjust your seat so you can sit with your hip, knee, and ankle in a straight line. The same goes for the left. Most people don’t use their left unless they’re driving a stick shift, like I do. Regardless, it also needs to be in that alignment and most cars have a plate for your foot to sit on to allow for this positioning.
Add lumbar support
Another option is to add in lumbar support if your car doesn’t have this. You can use a small pillow, or a small rolled up towel, or buy a lumbar roll and place it where your low back is in your chair so it forces you to upright posture.
The one thing that seems to help me the most, and something that I need to work on the most, is when I’m sitting in my car, I try to think of my head going through the roof of my car. You can sit tall and upright with your upper body but that doesn’t mean you’re adjusting your lower body to follow. You can have really tall upright posture with your shoulders and your low back and hips are still rounded. Adjusting the position for your posture so that you’re “sitting tall through your hat” (that’s an old saying I learned when I was riding horses back in the day). You want to push through the top of your head or in the car you think about pushing through the roof so you’re sitting really tall.
By practicing this posture, you’ll feel less low back and hip pain, but you’ll also notice so many muscles that contract in that position: abdominals, buttock muscles, low back, a co-contraction of our core. It doesn’t have to be intense, it can be a slight contraction, but it’s providing support all around your spine to decrease how much it has to do by relying on our muscles! Give it a try and let me know if it doesn't immediately give you some relief and take the pressure off your low back.
If you need help with positioning of your seats in your car, you’re not sure how to find comfort, or nothing seems comfortable, reach out! We can always do a car assessment. I can come to you and see what your posture looks like sitting in your car and we can make some adjustments so you can be more comfortable while driving. If you're looking for more ways to combat post-driving back pain at home, click here to access my free e-book "Top 5 Exercises for a Bulletproof Back."