We’ve all been there. Stuck in traffic and you’ve already been in the car for 2 hours. You start to feel that familiar discomfort forming in your lower back heading down your leg as you shift your weight in an attempt to relieve the feeling, or sit up straighter hoping you will last the next hour until you’re home.
It will come as no surprise that an epidemiological study looking at lower back pain in truck drivers found that over 50% of them reported lower back pain at one point over the duration of a month. Or, that the prevalence was significantly increased from both a ‘short resting time’ and ‘long driving time in the day’. A larger study of taxi drivers also found that over 50% had reported LBP in the last 12 months and that long driving time plus frequent bending/twisting activities whilst driving, alongside stress also increased prevalence.
Unfortunately, like it or not, we can’t escape the world of long drives or travel – unless you fancy being a hermit for the rest of life – so we’ve come up with some simple tips that aim to keep you on the highway to a pain-free journey!
- Take the time before you set off to get comfortable. Research is limited on exact parameters as every person is different and what is comfortable for you may not be for someone else. Therefore, take the time to adjust what you can until you have the desired setup.
- Adjust your mirrors: generally, you should only have to move your eyes to look in your mirrors; this reduces the strain on your neck. Sit up straight when doing this, when you slouch you will no longer be able to see - it will act as a reminder to maintain good posture.
- Adjust your seat: you want to be sitting upright with only a slight recline (roughly 10-20 degrees). You may need to use a small lumbar support or a rolled-up towel to support the natural curve of your lower back. You may find a seat cushion useful to reduce the vibration and act as a shock absorber. Please see the links below for more information regarding driving ergonomics.
- Stop or move regularly. Now I know that we’re all desperate to get home after a long day but you may need to schedule in regular stops – and who doesn’t love a service station? Especially when there’s an M&S! If you really can’t (and you have the bladder of a horse) then try regularly rolling your shoulders, arching and curling your spine and using traffic stops to stretch your legs – just remember to put it in neutral!
- Get organised and think about taking either a cool or heat pack with you (whatever helps your pain).
- Cruise Control? Yes please! Use this where possible, not only does it make your driving experience easier but you can place your feet flat on the floor which is a better position for your spine. But don’t get too comfortable, you will have to brake at some point!
- Muscular effort in sitting has been shown to be greater than that of standing, so when you are out of the car ensure you are working hard with your physiotherapist to strengthen your back and core muscles and give yourself the best chance of preventing future pain that will ‘drive’ you crazy!
Miyamoto, M., Shirai, Y., Nakayama, Y., Gembun, Y. and Kaneda, K., 2000. An epidemiologic study of occupational low back pain in truck drivers. Journal of Nippon Medical School, 67(3), pp.186-190.
Chen, J.C., Chang, W.R., Chang, W. and Christiani, D., 2005. Occupational factors associated with low back pain in urban taxi drivers. Occupational Medicine, 55(7), pp.535-540.
Gkikas, N. ed., 2012. Automotive ergonomics: driver-vehicle interaction. CRC Press.
Kyung, G. and Nussbaum, M.A., 2009. Specifying comfortable driving postures for ergonomic design and evaluation of the driver workspace using digital human models. Ergonomics, 52(8), pp.939-953.