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How to prevent back pain when driving

Most of us are guilty of spending far too many of our waking hours sitting, whether at a desk, on the sofa or behind the wheel so it is unsurprising to hear that back pain is the biggest single cause of disability in the UK. Furthermore, it seems that as we age, the risk of suffering from back pain increases.

Stay active

Staying active is the best way to help prevent back pain but if you spend a lot of time driving then you may be particularly prone to suffering a musculoskeletal problem.

Why can driving lead to back pain?

Our backs are designed to move so being in a fixed position for a long time can result in back trouble. And if this static position is compounded with poor posture then it really can take its toll on our backs.

Those who are in a car for more than 4 hours a day on a regular basis are more prone to suffer with lower back pain.

Top tips for drivers

There are practical steps you can take to minimise the risk of suffering back pain from driving:

  • Don’t recline – make sure your back rest is adjusted so it is in contact with your back from your bottom to your shoulders (approx. 100 to 110 degrees), If you recline your seat too far it will make you strain your head and neck forward.
  • Adjust the steering wheel – move the steering wheel up or down to find the most comfortable position and distance from your body.
  • Move your hands – vary your hand position when you are driving. This will help improve circulation and relieve joints.
  • Elbows at 90 degrees – slide your seat either forwards or back so that when your hands are at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock position on the steering wheel your elbows are at 90 degrees or slightly more.
  • Wiggle all the way back – position your bottom at the back of the seat so you still have the natural ‘S’ shape of your spine. Adjust your seat so it supports your thighs and avoid pressure behind your knees.
  • Headrest – should be adjusted so the mid-portion of the back of your head is in the middle of the cushion
  • Mirrors – these should be positioned so you can easily see them without putting any strain on your back or neck
  • Make regular stops – drivers and passengers should take a break every 2 to 3 hours which should involve getting out of the vehicle and walking or stretching for a few minutes or more. As well as making you feel more comfortable, a few minutes of movement will also help to improve concentration.

I have back pain – when should I see a doctor?

According to the NHS, medical attention should be sought if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Pain that is constant and is not alleviated by rest or movement
  • Swelling or inflammation on your back
  • Pain that is high on your back or that goes to your chest
  • Weight loss that is unexplained
  • A loss of control over your bladder or bowel
  • A temperature that is 38C (104F) or above
  • Numbness around your genitals or buttocks
  • If the back pain followed a serious accident.

Click here for 5 exercises for a healthy back or for videos on how best to stretch for keep your back healthy.

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