How many times have you absent-mindedly put on your heated seat in the car to soothe your aching back?

Indeed, a toasty back-rest will alleviate your discomfort, but wouldn’t it be better to not have the unpleasantness of back pain in the first place? Of course, this would come with the added bonus of being able to sit in ANY seat without your back shouting it’s displeasure at you.

“people who regularly spend more than 4 hours a day at the wheel are at increased risk of developing back problems.”

30-60% of drivers cite back pain which is caused or made worse by driving and people who regularly spend more than 4 hours a day at the wheel are at increased risk of developing back problems.

Although our cars may not be entirely to blame – after all, our bodies are designed to move and holding them in any static position for a prolonged period will result in discomfort – there are a number of common reasons why drivers experience more back pain:

Your Feet on the Pedals

With your feet being used to control the pedals, they are unable to do their regular job of stabilising and supporting the upper body, as they would when you normally sit. As a result, the muscles of the low back and hips work overtime to try and provide this stabilisation.

Solution

Posture

Although many car seats aren’t designed for optimum posture, we often don’t help ourselves. Sitting too far away from the steering wheel so you have to round forwards to steer is a common problem, as is the wheel being too high or too low, causing tension in the shoulders.

Likewise, if you’re positioned too far from the pedals, you’ll find that you reach with the legs and with the stability of your back already compromised, your low back will fatigue quickly and cause you to slump.

Your Psoas muscle is one of the primary hip flexors. It stretches from the top of your thigh bone to your low back and when it is in a prolonged shortened state (as it is when you’re sitting down), it can tighten over time and pull on your low back.

If your accelerator foot rests on the pedal with your leg rotated outwards, this is a good indicator that your Psoas muscle is tight which may be contributing to your back pain.

If your knees are higher than your hips, this can cause over-tightening of the Psoas, as well as your thighs not being able to provide stability for your upper body.

Solution 

Bumps in the Road

Your body is exposed to different forces when you drive. Vibrations from the bumps in the road, forward, backward and side-to-side movements when you accelerate and decelarate all increase spinal loading in the low back which puts you at increased risk of injury as the spine tries to absorb these forces and vibrations.

One study revealed that long-term vibration exposure from driving was among the highest risk factors for neck, back and low-back problems.

Solution

The Contents of Your Pockets

Sitting on your wallet or phone in your back pocket puts pressure on the muscles in your buttocks and can cause sciatic or back pain.

Your sciatic nerve, which runs behind your hip joint, can get pinched between whatever is in your pocket and your hip, causing pain to radiate down your legs.

Having items in your back pocket can also cause your pelvis to tilt which in turn puts pressure on your back and can cause an imbalance in the muscles.

Solution

Preventing back pain when driving will take some adjustments. There is no one-size-fits-all solution so use trial and error to find what works for you.

As well as the above, it’s important to take regular breaks to get out of the car, move around and stretch. Your body wants to move, allow it to do so and you’ll be rewarded with a comfortable, pain-free journey.

If you are experiencing back pain when you drive and would like to speak to a specialist about getting stronger so you can enjoy more comfortable driving, please complete the form below to register for a complimentary consultation. Once submitted, we’ll be in touch to book your session.

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I’ve long been an advocate of the ‘baby steps’ approach to health and fitness. Unless you are super-motivated and have cast-iron willpower, overhauling your diet or exercise regime will probably give you 2 weeks or so of smug, but I can almost guarantee that soon you’ll be right back where you started, possibly even a few steps behind, back on the ‘quit and start over’ train.

So, what to do – you want to improve your health, but where do you start? Try making smaller changes which don’t dramatically change your life to start off with. These 5 things will help you make the first steps. Bit by bit, you can implement tiny changes and before you know it you’ll be in the smug-zone for good, without feeling like you’ve sacrificed your life to get there.

1. Drink 1 less caffeinated drink a day.

Now, my eyebags tell me that sometimes caffeine is necessary, but if you are a steadfast coffee lover, try cutting down by a cup a day. Once you’ve cut down by one, and are used to it, try another one, then another (if you really do love your caffeine fix) until you reach a recommended level

2. Do an activity which raises your heart rate 3 times this week, for 30 minutes or more.

Note that I don’t say ‘go to the gym’. The best type of exercise is an activity you enjoy. There’s loads you can do – use your lunch break for a brisk stroll, get on your bike and commute to work, try an at-home workout or go to a group fitness class.

3. Swap one processed item a day for a non-refined (or less-processed) alternative.

We all know pre-packaged and processed foods aren’t the best in terms of delivering nutritional value, but if they feature heavily in your life, going cold-turkey might be one step too far. Try switching one item a day for starters, so a handful of nuts or piece of fruit instead of a packet of crisps or chocolate, water instead of squash or lean meat/fish instead of ham or cheese in your sandwich.

4. Swap your whites for wholegrains in one of your meals.

I’m talking the likes of rice, pasta and bread. Do this for long enough and you’ll probably start to prefer the more wholesome option.

5. Introduce protein to your breakfast 5 times this week.

If you don’t already do so, having a protein-rich breakfast will keep you fuller longer and stabilise your blood sugars. Tricky if you have breakfast on the go, but you can give overnight oats a shot (also nice cold, or baked as biscuits), or if you can have breakfast at home, go for super-quick scrambled or boiled eggs.