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Can Driving Cause Back Problems?
Drs Neal Barry and Nicole Barry

As the holiday seasons are upon us, many will depart on long journeys to visit loved ones. Outside of the mental stress of the holidays, physical stresses are often increased as well. Long drives cause many people to experience pain and discomfort, making the holiday season more difficult to enjoy. Unlike regular sitting, driving causes the body to be subjected to many different forces such as: accelerations and decelerations, lateral swaying from side to side, and to whole body vibrations. These motions, combined with improper low back support and prolonged sitting can increase the chances of you experiencing low back pain. The use of the right foot on the gas and brake, and/or the left foot on the clutch, can also add to the possible strain on your low back. When the feet are active they cannot be used to support and stabilize the lower body as when sitting in a stationary chair.

What to Look for in a Car Seat

  1. Car seat comfort - is it comfortable? Does it adjust to your body size and shape? If not, then the seat will eventually cause discomfort with prolonged driving.
  2. Car seat adjustments - can you adjust the features of the car seat? At a minimum, you should be able to adjust: the seat distance for leg length, the seat height for leg length, and the backrest angle of the seat to adjust the incline for comfortably. If your car has minimal options then you can try a lumbar (low back) support pillow for driving. This allows your low back to conform to the contour of the pillow, helps you sit more snuggly in your seat, and helps keep you from slouching in your low back.
  3. Other useful adjustments:
    • if your seat tilts, make sure that it is not tilted to press against the back of your knees.
    • if your car has lumbar support make sure that it is adjusted to the depth and height of YOUR low back curve. It should not press too hard or be too low or high.
    • a headrest for neck support can also help your low back.
    • arm rests can help take pressure off your low back as well, as long as they are not too high, or too low.
  4. Change your posture - remember to change positions from time to time. Wriggle in your seat, recenter yourself, put it on cruise control. Movement helps alleviate postural fatigue.
    Take Breaks - prolonged sitting can cause postural discomfort, leg pain, low back pain, and sometimes numbness.
  5. Take breaks at gas stations and rest areas - stretch your back by the gas pump or on a picnic table. Move around at every stop to help pump your muscles and reduce stiffness.

Sitting is the position that places the greatest amount of pressure onto the discs of the lower back. Allowing your body frequent breaks, takes some of the forces off of the discs and allows them to ‘breathe,’ and remove cell breakdown. Your body will thank you for years to come in the future.

In This Issue:
Can Driving Cause Back Problems?
Recipe: Oatmeal Cookies

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