This is a guest post thanks to Daniel Singleton and backonsite.com. Links provided:
Back pain while driving can be a big problem, especially for those driving long distances. So follow these 16 tips to get rid of back pain while driving for good.
For those of us that have to spend an hour or two on the road each day, the stresses and strains of driving will be all too familiar.
There is the rush hour traffic that can make a 10-minute journey take an hour.
On top of this, on the drive into work you are constantly being cut-up by busses and taxis (This may just be a London problem).
Not to mention having to watch out for more cyclists coming at you from all angles than compete in 10 Tour-de-France's (maybe London again).
And when you do finally reach your destination there is never anywhere to park (Ok, Ok, enough about London already!).
But while all of these things are annoying, for those who have to drive every day for a living (fair play to you!) there are added stresses.
Long-distance lorry drivers and truckers have to withstand long, monotonous journeys and gruelling shifts, while remaining alert enough to stay safe on the road.
While delivery drivers and couriers are constantly fighting through the traffic to keep to impossibly tight delivery schedules.
And then there are the bus, coach and taxi drivers that have to put up with annoying, rude and anti-social passengers on a daily basis.
All in all driving can be stressful to say the least.
However people that spend more than a couple of hours per day driving are also at a higher risk of developing back, neck and shoulder pain.
This is because sitting down in a fixed position for a prolonged period like this is not a good thing for your back.
And when it is mixed with an awkward posture (very common when driving), and the vibrations and movements from a moving vehicle, it can lead to long-term pain that can be hard to shift.
Ok, I'm going to get a little technical for a bit here (normal service will be resumed shortly!).
But I just want to give you an understanding of why we get pain in our backs from sitting for long periods.
There are two reasons for this: i) compressed vertebrae which weakens your discs and ii) tight and weakened muscles elsewhere leading to the spine being thrown out of alignment (1).
The discs in between your vertebrae are designed to expand and contract while you move (1).
This allows them to take in blood, oxygen and nutrients which keep them healthy and able to support the full movement of your spine.
However when you are seated your spine compresses which leads to pressure and squeezing on your discs, starving them of the nutrients and oxygen they need.
This results in the discs (and the ligaments surrounding them) weakening which restricts spinal flexibility and forces the lower back to carry more of the burden (1).
Secondly, sitting in the same position for too long can decrease circulation to your legs.
Again this deprives the muscles in them of the oxygen and nutrients they need, which leads to a lactic acid build up and increased muscle soreness and stiffness, especially in the hip area.
The 'use it or lose it' maxim holds true here.
Our bodies are designed to move around, and regular movement is necessary to maintain healthy muscles and joints (2).
So when we sit for an extended period, our hamstrings, glutes and abdominal muscles all remain unused.
These muscles are vital for supporting our spine, however leaving them dormant like this only weakens them.
And the combined result of tightness in the hips added to weakened abs, glutes and hamstrings create muscle imbalances in the body which can pull your spine out of alignment.
This can lead to you developing a forward-tilting pelvis as the body works to compensate for the lack of support and increased load on the lower back.
And this will leave you with a bad posture that puts even more pressure on your lower back and leads to even more pain!
As you can see, sitting down for too long is just not a good idea!
The association between prolonged sitting and back pain has been shown in multiple studies.
One such study looked to improve the health of workers by reducing the amount of time that they had to spend sitting during their workdays (3).
And after two weeks they found that reducing the periods of prolonged sitting led to significant reductions in back and neck pain amongst the workers (3).
Food for thought.
However while prolonged sitting is bad enough, prolonged sitting while driving is even worse!
2. Don't Sit Too Far Away From The Steering Wheel
And when you hold a bad posture for an extended length of time, back pain while driving becomes inevitable.
So how can you tell if you're at the right distance away from the steering wheel?
One way to test yourself is to reach out and see if you can rest your wrists on top of the steering wheel.
If you can do this then you can keep a bend in your arms as you drive and not be overstretching,
If not, move your seat closer!
Also your feet should be able to reach the pedals comfortably while keeping a slight bend in your knee.
You should be able to press the clutch down and still keep your heel on the floor.
The reason for this is that when sitting normally we use our feet to stabilise us and take pressure off of our backs by placing them flat on the floor.
If you can't do this when driving then the load increases on your lower back.
Now you need to use your feet when driving, but by sitting closer to the wheel you can gain more stability for your spine.
And if you have the option to drive an automatic rather than manual vehicle and thus get rid of the need for changing gears, all the better!
The reason is that even if you twist only slightly to one side to hold an off-centre steering wheel while driving, it will force you out of alignment and into an awkward posture.
And over time this will cause you back pain while driving no matter how minor the twist.
4. Keep Both Hands On The Wheel
It's so easy to get into the habit of holding the wheel with one hand while the other roams free with your elbow resting out of the open window.
However holding this position for hours at a time can cause you to slouch to one side, leading to stiffness and pain in your back, neck and shoulders.
Holding the wheel at the 9 and 3 positions (or even the 8 and 4 positions) is now considered to be the best practice when driving.
The previous advice of keeping your hands at the 10 and 2 positions is outdated nowadays for two reasons.
Firstly, with the installation of airbags in modern vehicles, holding the wheel in this position can prove dangerous in an accident.
As the airbag deploys with such force it can fling your arms and hands back and into you if they are in this position, which has been the cause of many RTA deaths as well as broken fingers, arms, hands and noses.
And secondly, the invention of power steering has meant you no longer need the added leverage of holding the wheel at this angle to turn.
However keeping your hands at 9 and 3 will keep you safe if the airbag deploys and also will ensure you keep the symmetry and help you to stay aligned and pain-free on your journey.
And if you have to adjust your body or neck to get the best view each time, you are not doing your back any favours.
So your mirrors should be positioned in such a way that you don't have to strain your neck to check them as you drive.
Sometimes the seats are too low which leaves you straining to get the best view of the road.
And some are fitted with seats that don't support the curvature of the spine well enough, forcing you to slouch or adopt an uncomfortable posture as you drive.
However you can buy specialised cushions to either sit on to raise your position, or to place between your lower back and the seat to give you the right support and help you to maintain the correct posture.
When sitting you should be aiming to maintain an S-shaped bend in the spine rather than a C-shaped bend.
So it's important to buy the best car seat cushion for long drives, and there are some great ones on the market these days.
I've included a couple of examples of good ones to try, which you can find on Amazon by clicking the links below.
The Cushina seat-cushion is great for raising your position when the seat is too low and is specially designed to help you sit with a good posture.
And here is a lumbar car cushion that is useful for providing support between your lower back and the car seat.
Just make sure that it will fit in your car as some seats may not be compatible.
Also, if you find that the lumbar support cushion slips out of position due to the vibrations as you drive, you can tie it around yourself to keep it in place.
Sitting down with your wallet or phone in your back pocket will cause your hips to shift out of position, which will lead to your spine being out of alignment.
And over the course of a long drive this is going to become a problem!
It causes tension to build up and your muscles to stiffen and weaken.
And this can be a big cause of back pain while driving.
So as you drive try to incorporate little movements and shifts every 15 minutes or so to keep your body awake and active.
Even a slight movement can release some of the tension that's built up.
So roll your shoulders back and forwards.
Shift your neck from side to side.
Rotate your pelvis backwards and forwards, side-to-side.
Have a stretch and a yawn.
Obviously do all these things when it's safe to do so!
But it can be a big help for your back on a long drive.
10. Take Regular BreaksI know it can be hard to take breaks when you have a tight schedule and a boss or customers ready to go on the warpath if you turn up late.
But driving non-stop for hours at a time is one of the worst things you can do for your back.
The highway code recommend taking a 15-minute break for every 2 hours of driving, and I'd recommend that too! 11. Make Sure You Move Around When You Do Take A Break
It's important to get your body moving around and your muscles loosening and working again.
So walk around. Gently stretch your neck and shoulders. Gently stretch your hips and hamstrings.
This will release muscle tension and set you up for your next stint on the road.
However do be careful not to overstretch yourself at this point, as your muscles will have become less flexible and more sensitive after a long drive.
12. Be Careful When Loading/Unloading Your VehicleFollowing on from the previous point, your muscles will be more sensitive after a prolonged time spent sitting or driving.
So be careful not to overdo things and strain yourself when loading or unloading your vehicle.
Make sure you are following safe manual handling guidelines, as so many injuries for truck and delivery drivers occur during unloading. 13. Control Your Stress Levels
However when we get stressed our muscles become more tense.
And we hold this stress inside, which only makes our back pain while driving worse.
So it is really important to try and stay relaxed.
Even if you have a boss screaming at you, get stuck in a traffic jam, or are running out of time to get where you need to go, try and find a happy place.
Because getting stressed, angry or anxious will only make things worse!
14. Divert Your Attention Away From The Pain
We are bombarded by sounds, sights, smells and other stimuli every second of our lives and it is far too much for us to be able to take in and process.
So the brain has to adapt to allow us to function.
It automatically prioritises what we focus on by selecting what it considers to be the most important stuff to bring to your attention, while ignoring everything else.
And unfortunately for those of us with chronic pain, our brains will usually give the sensation of pain top priority!
However if you can consciously divert the brain to focus on something else instead, then you can block the pain signals from getting to your brain.
This is because if you consciously fill your brain with things it needs to concentrate on and process, then it will not have enough capacity left over to also be able to listen to the pain signals it is getting from your back.
So on long drives try and occupy your brain (as much as is safe to do so!).
Listen to your favourite music, or talk radio, or buy a few audiobooks to work your way through.
Diverting your brain away from your back pain while driving will help you drive more comfortably, and will probably make long drives feel shorter too!
Also there is a good video from the Healthy Back Institute on YouTube that you can find here, which includes 3 simple exercises that will specifically help you if you spend a lot of time driving.
16. Get A Good Night's SleepI know this one can be difficult, as people with chronic back pain are highly likely to suffer from insomnia.
Also it can be hard to get a good sleep if you have to sleep out overnight in your cab.
But sleeping well is vital in keeping back pain at bay.
It is during sleep that the body repairs and recuperates, and this is even more vital if your back is taking a daily hammering from long drives.
I've written a guide with 7 tips on how you can sleep better, which you can check out here.