Straight To The Point Blog

Driving Ergonomics and Posture

November 15th, 2019

Time to feast on some good driving posture habits.

Did you know that even sitting in a car for hours can cause aches and pains in your body? Over the river and through the woods—and often, far, far away—we go for many holidays in which driving is often the simplest way to get there. The good news, however, is that improving your postural awareness is easy, and some subtle ergonomics changes can help reduce strain to your parts.

The reality is that sound ergonomics and posture principles do not change drastically with location. Many of the same good habits you have at the desk will carry over to the car, as well as the train or airplane seat. Here are a few key points to consider before embarking on your next extended car trip:

1) Support your lower back. Car seats are one-size-fits-all which often means they “fit” very few of us. The curve of the lower back is commonly unsupported which presses the natural curve of the lower back into reverse.  To prevent this from happening something as basic as a rolled towel in the small of the back can help. The key here is the natural curve of the back is maintained. Don’t use something too big as this would exaggerate the curve of the low back causing it to arch too much.

2) Don’t reach with your arms. Think of the steering wheel like the keyboard on your desk. You should not feel like you are stretching your arms forward to grasp the wheel. Observe the angle of the bend of your elbow when holding the wheel. Adjust the seat position such that your elbow is at a 45 degree angle. Use the center console and arm rest of the door to support the weight of the arm. This will allow the shoulder muscles to do less “work,” thus reducing stress on the neck.

4) Sit “right.” Adjust the height of the seat so that your knees are only slightly higher than your hips. This will decrease strain on your lower back. Also, keep in mind that the angle of the seat back should be slightly tilted back. This position will reduce the loading stress on your back.

5) Keep your head on straight. Be sure to use the head rest to help you stay in touch with your neck posture. When correctly positioned, your head should be in line with your shoulders and torso versus craning forward. Be sure to adjust your mirrors to this position so you don’t have to move you head significantly to see behind you. An elevated headrest can also help reduce whiplash injury.

6) Give yourself a break. Good driving posture habits should include changes of position. Consider taking a short walk break when the gas tank is half empty, as well as when you stop to refuel. As we PT folk like to say “motion is lotion,” never forget the benefit of movement. When appropriate, use cruise control to allow weight shifting while en-route.

Safe travels, and don’t forget that many of the key supportive tips will apply to a planes, trains and desk seats too.

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