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Hitting The Road? Here's What You Need to Know...

Updated: Oct 29, 2021

There's nothing quite like getting into your car and getting away from the city buzz, even just a little while. However, driving for long periods of time can cause ergonomic pains if you aren't positioned properly.

Potential ergonomic risks associated with driving:

  • Awkward positions.

    • Prolonged positions.

    • Whole body vibration.

Let's get your position right!

There are two factors to consider when getting into position for driving:

  • You need to be comfortable so that the position you are in can be maintained for the journey. This will also help to avoid gradual onset of problems like low back pain.

  • Secondly, the position needs to allow all the movements needed for safe and efficient driving.

How to position your car seat for driving:

1. Starting position:

  • Lower the seat completely

  • Slide the seat away from the steering wheel completely.

  • Recline the back rest to about 30 degrees from vertical.

  • Lower the seat cushion at the front edge.

  • Place the steering wheel in its highest and most forward position.

  • Release the lumbar support to its "backed off" position.

2. Raise the seat to the point that maximizes your vision of the road without causing your head and neck movements to be restricted. 3. To ensure good pedal control, move the seat forward until you can easily depress the clutch and accelerator pedals. 4. Tilt the seat cushion up or down to support your thighs along the length of the cushion. Consider even distribution of pressure along the back of your leg from your hips to your knees. 5. Adjust the back rest so that it supports the full length of your back, right up to your shoulders. 6. Adjust the lumbar support to fit the curve of your lower back. There should be even pressure along your spine, with no gaps. If your vehicle doesn't have a lumbar support you may need to use a lumbar cushion. Your Physiotherapist can help you choose a cushion with a good shape for your spine. A cheaper alternative would be to roll up a towel and place this between your lower back and your seat. 7. Lower the steering wheel and move it towards you for easy reach. When your hands are positioned at "ten o'clock and two o'clock" your elbows should be slightly bent. Check that you can still see the display panel and that your legs are clear of the wheel when you use the pedals. 8. Adjust your head rest so that the top of the rest is level with the top of your head. In the event of an accident, this will minimize whiplash injury. The tilt of the headrest should keep your neck and back in comfortable vertical alignment. 9. Adjust the mirrors so that you can use them without straining your neck or body.

*Check to make sure that the position does not strain or put pressure on any part of your body!*

Avoid prolonged positions. Even if you have fantastic posture, if you stay in one position for a long time, there is potential for discomfort and injury. When you are not moving, the blood supply to the muscles reduces and over time your muscles become tired. Because of this, it is difficult to maintain correct posture. Movement or activity after sitting for a long period of time is often associated with injury since the body is not "warmed-up" for the action. Small movements and regular shifts in body weight can help your body maintain circulation throughout the body during driving.

It is also important to pull over and take a quick walk or stretch break for extended drives. For instance, for every two hours spent driving, you should get out and have a quick 2 minute walk around the car and a quick stretch break. You may need more frequent breaks if you are uncomfortable, or have a history of musculoskeletal problems that are aggravated by driving. Your Physiotherapist will be able to develop a "stretch break" plan that is just right for you. This is particularly important if you have a history of back problems or are susceptible to discomfort brought on by driving. If you have a healthy back you may like to try the exercises below to help you stay comfortable should you have to drive for long periods of time. Here's a quick "stretch-break" exercise list to follow:

1. Take a walk for a minute or two to increase your blood flow to your muscles.

2. Lateral flexion of the spine stretch. Hold stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat each side twice.

3. Back extension. Hold stretch for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 times.

Minimize exposure to whole body vibration. Whole body vibration is the jolting and shaking of the whole body. Vibration caused by driving on unsealed, rough road surfaces or from the mechanics of the moving vehicle, can be transferred to your body through the seat. Low levels of vibration that usually occur while driving domestic vehicles on sealed roads are of little risk to your body.

High levels of vibration, such as those experienced by operators of heavy machinery and vehicles, may present a greater risk of low back pain or other health problems depending on the amount of time per day the driver is exposed to the vibration. Whole body vibration exposure should be minimized by planning work carefully. Sharing the workload between colleagues or alternating driving with other tasks to evenly distribute the daily vibration exposure, and taking more frequent "stretch breaks" can reduce the risk to your body. Good driving posture is particularly important when whole body vibration is high. Your spine is able to absorb shock better when it is in a "neutral" position, with the curve of the lumbar spine maintained, than in a slouched, flexed lumbar spine position. Other controls for whole body vibration include adjusting your driving speed, for example slowing down to drive over bumps, modifying road surfaces, keeping your vehicle, tire, and suspension systems correctly maintained, and ensuring the correct seat is installed for the vehicle should the seat require replacement.

With these tips you are ready to hit the road!!

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