How to prevent back pain in your car

James Foxall
Written by: James Foxall
Posted on: 14 September 2016

According to the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), four out of five people suffer from lower back pain.

The BCA also suggests that long car journeys aggravate the problem and that drivers can do much more to help themselves when sitting inside their car.

So with this in mind, here are a few tips to help take the pain out of driving…

Think about the kind of car you buy

Rishi Loatey from the BCA claims that one major cause of back trouble is when we sit in cars for long periods of time with our hips lower than our knees. He said: “Cars with higher seating positions such as the Vauxhall Zafira or BMW X5 are very good for your back.”

Robin Lansman, president of the Institute of Osteopathy, thinks drivers should also pay more attention to how comfortable a car is during the buying process. He said: “People choose cars based on what they look like, the fuel consumption, safety, just about anything apart from how suitable they are for their back.”

Why your car could be a pain in the back

Perhaps the biggest reason for back pain caused by cars is when seats and controls are at slightly different angles to each other. Car manufacturers are frequently forced to do this when they convert cars designed to be left-hand drive to right-hand drive.

Having the wheel at a slightly different angle to how you’re sitting – known as offset – forces you to rotate your shoulders slightly compared to the pelvis. Over time this can prompt back pain.

How to check if your car is hurting you

To find out if the steering wheel is offset, stretch your arms out in front of you and put your hands together. If the steering wheel is offset, you won’t be pointing at the centre of it.

Alternatively, place both hands evenly on the steering wheel in the quarter-to-three position. Rest your feet on the floor (under the pedals) with each foot the same distance from the seat. Look down at your legs. If the steering wheel is offset you won’t be able to see equal amounts of leg beneath your arm.

How to set your seat

According to Robin Lansman: “People just want to jump into their car and go. They should spend a bit of time setting up their seat before they start driving.”

It’s believed that the seat’s backrest should be set at around 100 degrees to reduce the pressure on discs in your spine. Your back should be in contact with the seat up to your shoulders. If you have a height adjustable seat and there’s sufficient headroom, it will help your back if your hips are higher than your knees.

Position the seat so that you don’t have to overextend to reach the pedals. When the clutch and brake pedals are fully depressed, the knee should be at an angle of around 120 degrees between the calf and thigh. But your legs shouldn’t be so close to the pedals that your knees are resting against the dashboard.

However you set your seat, it’s important to maximise visibility.

How to set your steering wheel

The majority of modern cars have steering wheels that adjust up and down, as well as in and out.

You should adjust it so you can reach the steering wheel with your arms still slightly bent, while making sure it isn’t too low that it hits your knees and ensuring you can still see the entire display instrument through it.

What if the driving position doesn’t feel quite right?

Unfortunately, you won’t be alone. In a paper about driving ergonomics, Loughborough University concluded: “Be aware that many cars will not allow you as much flexibility of driving posture as you may like.”

If you do a lot of driving and regularly suffer from back pain, here are a few more tips on seat adjustments, posture and useful exercises.

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