Proper Driving Mechanics

Proper Driving Position

For many people, their daily routine involves jumping into a car, making a habitual journey and setting off in auto-pilot mode. Driving a car is their primary mode of transport and for others it is used for their professions e.g. truck, ambulance and taxi drivers. Modern car designs have come a long way over the past 20 years. However, there is evidence to suggest that some poor modern seat designs could be contributing factor to injuries (1). Let’s explore this a little further, highlight the ideal driving position to prevent these injuries from happening, and show you some superb exercises to use on the side of the road.

The Ideal Driving Position

  • Raise the seat until you can comfortably see the road and all of the car instruments.
  • Your hips should be roughly as high as your knees.
  • Move the seat so that you can fully operate the pedals (heels on the floor) without moving in the seat. This creates a slight bend in the knee.
  • The knees should not be in contact with the steering wheel.
  • Recline the back of the seat to around 100 degrees. This decreases the pressure on the lower back.
  • Adjust the head rest, so that it is in contact with the middle of your head.
  • Adjust the lumbar support, so that it is both supportive and comfortable.
  • Change the position of the seat belt and not the seat, to alter the position of the seat belt.
  • Place your hands on the steering wheel at 9 and 3 o’clock positions, this will relax the shoulders and it allows a slight bend at the elbows.
  • Angle the mirrors so that you head stays in a level position when turning to looking at them.

What is so Different about the Driving Position?

At a glance, sitting in a driving seat is very similar to sitting in regular chair at home. However, when you turn on the engine on and start to move in the car, this is when some of the comparisons between the both end. When we are driving we are subjected to a variety of different forces e.g. acceleration, deceleration, lateral and vibrations, and the feet are being used to control the car using the pedals. When the feet are controlling the car, they are not being used to support and stabilise the lower body. Research has indicated that these factors, coupled with the design of the car seat can increase the risk of lower back injuries (2).

Is Driving Linked with Back Issues?

Research has indicated the vibration from driving a car can increase the stress on the lower back, resulting in sitting discomfort and increase the risk of lower back pain (3). Prolonged exposure to vibrations when driving can also lead to injuries of the neck (4). People who drive more than 4 hours per day are more likely to have incidents of lower back and neck injuries (4). In addition, the inability to adjust all the seat positions does play a role in the incidents of lower back pain.

Driving in the wrong sitting positions for prolonged periods of time can have a negative impact on your overall posture. This can place a burden on the lower back, shoulders, hips, knees, elbows and wrists and it may lead to overuse injuries. These injuries include foot cramps, lower back, neck and shoulder pain. These are a form of ‘repetitive driving injuries’ and can be prevented. It is very important to improve your posture, to adopt the correct driving position, invest in the ideal car seat design and taking amble breaks when driving. Let’s not forget about strengthening your core muscles, as this protects your back and improves your overall posture.

The Ideal Car Seat Design

Ideally your car seat should have the following features for optimal comfort and back protection. These include:

  • Adjustable back incline
  • Adjustable height for the bottom seat
  • The seat should be made of dense foam to absorb the vibrations
  • Adjustable lumbar (lower back) support
  • Adjustable head rest
  • Seat shock absorbers to reduce vibration further
  • An arm rest
  • Movement of the seat forwards and backwards to reach the pedals without effort.

The Use of a Lumbar Wedge Cushion

If your car seat won’t lift high enough or does not tilt forwards enough, then invest in a wedge cushion to take some of the pressure off your legs. This stops the lower back from protruding outwards because it keeps it in a natural ‘S’ shaped position. It is very important for the hips not to go passed the 90 degrees position. As this shortens the some of the core muscles and it is a platform for lower back issues. A wedge cushion will help to stop this scenario from happening. Plus use a wedge cushion if the seat is broken down one side and/or it will not slide forwards enough, so that your legs can use the pedals with ease.

Additional Information

Once you have set up the driving seat and adopted the correct driving position, it is important to focus on these additional factors. Try to avoid sitting in one position for lengthy periods of time and on occasions, attempt to make small changes to your driving position. Sit on the sitting bones, as these acts as the body’s natural shock absorbers for the lower back. Allow your back to lengthen, keep your head in a neutral position and don’t sit on your wallet. Sitting on your wallet throws the pelvis out of position, and this can lead to back pain and injuries.

At least every 2 hours, get out of the car and stretch (only when safe to do so), this gets the blood flowing to the limbs, reduces stress on the joints and muscles, increases flexibility and helps you to regain mental focus. One of the biggest causes of accidents on the road is tiredness (5). Why not try these 7 stretches and mobility exercises on the side of the road, it will revitalise you, so that you will be ready to restart your journey with a lot more gusto!

The 7 Road Side Stretches and Mobility Exercises

1. Head Roll

Advice on Technique

  • Start by bringing your left ear gently down towards your left shoulder
  • Hold this position for five seconds
  • Start to gently roll your chin down and across your chest bringing your right ear towards your right shoulder
  • Continue to rotate your head gently backwards finishing off at the start position
  • Repeat this motion five times in the same direction
  • Repeat on the other side
  • Do this motion slowly, taking care not to drop your head too far back
  • Exhale when chin is down.

2. Head Turns

Advice on Technique

  • Rotate your head to look over your right shoulder taking care not to twist your neck too far
  • Hold for five seconds
  • Return your head to neutral position
  • Then turn to your left shoulder holding this again for five seconds
  • Repeat ten times
  • Do this motion slowly keeping your back straight and tall.

3. Chin Tucks

Advice on Technique

  • Start by standing tall and raising your head to keep the neck straight
  • Begin to bring your chin down towards your chest stretching out the back of your neck
  • Hold this pose for five seconds
  • Gently bring your chin back to the neutral position
  • Repeat ten times
  • Exhale when chin goes down
  • Inhale when returning to neutral position.

4. Shoulder Rolls

Advice on Technique

  • Begin by standing tall with feet flat on the ground and shoulder width apart
  • Gently start to raise your shoulders up towards your ears and drop the shoulders towards the back and back up to the front
  • Repeat this motion up to ten times
  • Then do it the opposite way, shoulders up, drop forward then backwards, back up to your ears. Repeat
  • Keep your face neutral and neck relaxed throughout.

5. Chest Stretch

Advice on Technique

  • Begin by standing tall, legs hip width apart with soft knees
  • Have your arms stretched out in front of you at shoulder height
  • Start to do the motion of hand clapping without the palms touching
  • Keep repeating this motion with each move getting quicker and arms wider apart to stretch out the chest muscles
  • Do this up to twenty times to feel the stretch
  • Maintain a tall posture with relaxed shoulders.

6. Arching of the Lower Back

Advice on Technique

  • Standing tall with your legs hip width apart
  • Place your palms on your lower back below your waist
  • Start to gently bring your shoulders back arching your back
  • Go only as far as you can comfortably go
  • Hold the position for five to ten seconds
  • Gently straighten yourself back up to neutral.

7. Rotation of the Foot

Advice on Technique

  • Sitting tall with feet slightly apart
  • With your right leg straightened and raised slightly off the floor, lift up the right foot a few inches
  • Rotate your foot and ankle clockwise five times, then anti-clockwise five times
  • Point the toes back up towards the knee then point down to the floor, repeat this up-to ten times
  • Repeat the above on the left foot.

References

  1. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16161708
  2. Bovenzi M, Zadini A. Self-reported low back symptoms in urban bus drivers exposed to whole body vibration. Spine. 1992;17(9):1048–1059. doi: 10.1097/00007632-199209000-0000
  3. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12745978
  4. Subramian R (2007) Motor vehicle traffic crashes as a leading cause of death in the United States