DRIVING INDUCED NECK AND BACK PAIN

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According to statistics, 14 million of us are affected by what is referred to by some as Repetitive Driving Injury!  Research shows the five most common RDI’s are foot cramp, low back pain, neck pain and headache.

Many of us spend a good couple of hours a day in the car, commuting to work or picking up kids and running errands.  Have you thought of how your seat position may be affecting your neck and low back.

Some cars come with an adjustable lumbar support and seat tilt, as well as the standard backrest adjustment and leg adjustment.  Unfortunately, some cars do not have adequate lumbar support and many of us have adopted the ‘relaxing at home on the sofa’ or the ‘if I lean forward I will get there faster’ positon for driving!!

THE RELAXED OR “RACER” POSITION

driving relaxed

The backrest of the seat should be around 100 degree angle to the seat, however, many people have the backrest at 120-130  degrees As you can see by the diagram,  there is no support in the low back and the head is pushed forward.  If the head were to follow the natural curve of the spine, the driver would be looking up at the sun visor.  To compensate the driver has to bend the neck and jut the chin forward to bring the eye line level with the road.  The result of this position is chronic neck and shoulder pain, headaches and low back pain.  The buttocks and hamstrings are also affected as the leg has to overstretch when depressing the pedals.

leaning forward driver

THE LEANING FORWARD POSITION

With this position the driver generally starts their journey correctly, however after a few minutes the torso leans forward, shoulders scrunch up to the ears and the hip flexor and gluteal muscles over work.  This position may be as a result of stress, or eye strain or just out of habit.  The results of driving in this manner are headaches, burning sensation in the shoulder muscles, neck pain and low back pain.

THE ‘SIDE SLOUCHER’

This is another typical position I have come across with patients, mainly found with SUV drivers (sorry no diagram for this one!).  The driver tend to lean on the arm rest of the seat or on the centre console, while steering with their right hand.  This causes left shoulder pain, neck pain and left low back and gluteal pain which can radiate into the back of the thigh, commonly known as Sciatica.

5 TIPS FOR CORRECT DRIVING POSTURE

correct driving position

THE BACK REST:
Should be around 100 degrees, not bolt upright, but what feels comfortable for you.

LOW BACK:
If you have an adjustable lumbar support, use it, if not use a small cushion.

SEAT HEIGHT:  
The seat should be high enough for your hips to be in line with your knees and your view out of the window halfway between the top of the windscreen and the steering wheel.  Us a cushion to elevate if you are shorter.

ARM POSITION:
Your arms should be bent at a 30-40 degree angle and should be able to reach the top of the steering wheel easily without having to move your head or shoulders off the backrest.

LEG POSITION:
Legs should still have a slight bend at the knee when you fully depress the clutch or brake.

Finally, take regular breaks when you are on a long journey.  If you find yourself stuck in traffic often, do some shoulder and neck stretches at traffic lights etc.

Here are 3 simple stretches that can safely be done.

Rolling the shoulders forwards and backwards

While gripping the steering wheel and hollow out the  middle of your chest, you will find this pushes your mid back into the backrest, stretching the area between the shoulder blades.

Drop the head down to the shoulder while looking straight ahead, and then turning your head to look at the elbow stretches the back of the neck and trapezius…

…and as ever, if you find that you have a lingering or niggling pain, please consult an Osteopath.

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About the Author:

After graduating in 1995 from the British College of Osteopathic medicine, I went on to work with The British School of Osteopathy as a clinic tutor and with a variety of well respected U.K. Osteopaths. In 2001 I left Britain and set up the successful Osteopathic Centre & Pilates Studio in Barbados and worked with the West Indies International and Barbados National Rugby Teams, with whom I toured to several international tournaments. I returned to the UK in 2012 and established Balanced Body Clinic in Twickenham. The Light Centre Moorgate is the exciting City branch of Balanced Body Clinic.
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