Xandra says: Don’t you just hate it when someone else drives your car? If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you’ve felt the same when someone else has moved every aspect of your car seat and you have to spend ages resetting it.
Our car seats are very much like our workstations. As places that we can spend hours sitting in, how we are positioned can make a huge difference to our comfort and the aches and pains we may experience. Sit in the wrong position, and you will inevitably place unnecessary stress and strain on your spine1 and joints.
It’s easy to underestimate how important good posture is to overall health. Poor posture can not only cause aches and pains, but it can slow your metabolism, interfere with your breathing, heart rate and digestion too. It can cause headaches and mood problems – all of which can be eliminated if you set up your car and workstation in a way that places the least amount of wear on your joints.
I often show patients at my chiropractic clinic how to set their driving position up when they are in the clinic car park and they tell me what a difference it makes!
Even for those of us who don’t have a job that requires driving, many of us spend around 10 hours a week2 in our cars. If you spend that time trying to sit bolt upright, not only is it bad for your posture,3 but it places you alarmingly close to the airbag, which can have dangerous consequences.
stop sitting upright!
There. We said it. The idea that sitting upright is good for you and for your posture is nothing more than a myth. Back in the Victorian era, people were taught to sit up straight, not slouch and to sit, stand and walk tall. But we’ve moved on, and there is absolutely no modern research that supports the idea that sitting upright is good for you.
In fact, the ideal position for your spine is when it is reclined between 110° and 135°.4
surely sitting upright helps keep my spine aligned and straight?
This may be true, except that your spine isn’t naturally straight. It has three very distinct curves, which actually makes sitting upright quite challenging. When you are seated, gravity pushes all your upper body weight down through your spine and into your lower back. That’s a lot of weight, even if you’re not overweight. After just 10 to 20 minutes, fatigue kicks in and we find ourselves automatically looking for an armrest, slouching, hunching or finding other creative ways to relieve that pressure.
make your car seat do the hard work
Just a few simple adjustments can make your car setup work for you, not against you. Letting your seat take the weight and distribute it more evenly feels heavenly!
A great rule of thumb is to try and stretch everything out. Forget everything you thought about keeping your knees at 90° angles to your feet and hips. Opening up your joints instantly reduces the stress placed on them.
recline your backrest
Yes, you might feel it’s how teenage boys who have just passed their driving test sit when they are trying to look cool, but putting your car seat back helps to open up your hips, relax your shoulders and spread your weight throughout your back more evenly.
Make sure that your lower back is supported by your seat and adjust your chair height so that you’re not slouching.
balance your lumbar support
There should be a curve in the lower part of the back support of your car seat. Often, this is adjustable, so you can ensure that curve of your back is supported properly. If your car doesn’t have a lumbar support, think about buying one (they are inexpensive) and securing that in the correct part of your car seat.
A lumbar support reduces the strain on your discs and joints, so you experience less pain and fatigue3. A support stops your back from slumping and supports the curve without any effort.
straighten your legs
Be careful of bending your knees too much, which can happen if you have your seat too far forward. Your feet should be outstretched and rest on the pedals at a nice, low angle. If you drive an automatic, use the footrest to stretch your leg out even further.
Knee osteoarthritis has doubled in the last 60 years, with new studies putting the problem on diet, weight and too much sitting. Putting your weight through your legs at the wrong angle can place unnecessary load on your knee cartilage, which is made even worse if you sit forward and place your feet at a 90° angle.5
Simply stretching things out reduces the load, wear and tear on your joints.
the bottom of your seat
Not all cars have the option to change the angle of how your bum sits on the seat, but if it does tilt, try and angle it so that it lowers the angle of your knees. This increases the angle between your upper body and your thighs, which reduces pressure on your lower back and hips.1
adjust the angle of your steering wheel
Not everyone even knows that the angle of your steering wheel is adjustable, but it is and it should be angled slightly downward, to help relax your shoulders and keep them lowered.
But in this new, more reclined position, you may struggle to reach the steering wheel. Either pull your steering wheel out towards you, or move your seat forward a position or two. You want to be close enough to comfortably grip the wheel, but without lots of bending in your elbows.
Having the steering wheel a bit lower stops you from lifting your shoulders up too high. Your arms are heavy and the higher you raise them the harder it is on your upper body. After a while your shoulders will get tired, so you will recruit the muscles in your upper back and chest to help support them. As the muscles in your chest and upper back get tired and tight, you are more likely to create a head-forward posture. This can create tension, pain and wear-and-tear on the neck and upper back joints.
take a break
If you drive for a living or simply for long periods from time to time, it’s easy to find a reason to carry on, rather than taking a break, but is it worth it? On average, our concentration drops after just 14 minutes. Even if you are very engaged in what you are doing the most your concentration can be at its best is for 29 minutes.6 A break of just a few minutes can energise your concentration and reset your posture.
If you feel stiff after getting out of the car after a long journey, it’s a sure sign that you should factor in a few more stops along the way. And don’t forget to stay hydrated too – always take water with you. Air conditioning is naturally drying, so you need water to keep you hydrated and your cells (including your brain) to keep performing optimally. A bathroom break at the services is also a great way to stretch your legs and energise your mind and body.
banish bad habits
If changing your posture means relearning everything you are used to, it can feel like too big a change to make. But it doesn’t have to be hard. Small changes can make the biggest difference!
The Natural Doctors’ Realign programme teaches you what your posture type is, and then shows you quick and easy exercises to gradually shift those old posture habits and teaches your body to form new ones. Unlike generic posture exercises, my experience as a chiropractor focuses on your specific joint posture to work the right areas in the right way.
- Sitting biomechanics part I: review of the literature
- Britons spend more time driving than socialising
- Postural changes of the dural sac in the lumbar spines of asymptomatic individuals using positional stand-up magnetic resonance imaging
- Sitting biomechanics part I: review of the literature
- Mechanical loads at the knee joint during deep flexion
- Brief and rare mental “breaks” keep you focused: deactivation and reactivation of task goals preempt vigilance decrements
- To Work Better, Just Get Up From Your Desk