Archive for Thursday, April 20, 2006

Don’t let driving be a pain in the neck

April 20, 2006

With traffic continually worsening and commutes lengthening, Americans are spending more time driving or riding in cars. Women drive an average of 34 miles per day while men drive an average of 44 miles. With all of this time spent in vehicles, the driving seat should be comfortable and provide the proper support necessary to avoid chronic back and neck pain.

Simply sitting in a typical driving seat isn't that much different from sitting in a chair in the family den, but when the car starts to move, everything changes. The body is subject to a variety of forces that come with motion: accelerating and decelerating, swaying from side to side and vibrations. Using muscles in the feet and legs to push the accelerator and brake pedals keeps those muscles from supporting the lower body. The combination of forces on the body and the lack of lower body support can create back and neck pain.

Even though car seat design has come a long way in the last century, most back problems relating to driving are because of poor adjustment of seats and posture while driving, Jason Marchetti, M.D., physiatrist with Texas Back Institute said.

There are a few things that the optimal car seat should have:

  • Adjustable seat back incline, height, bottom depth and bottom incline
  • Dense foam cushioned seat bottom with shock absorbers
  • Adjustable lumbar support, armrests, headrests and distance from seat to pedals

Even though most cars don't come equipped with all of the features mentioned above, there are a few top things to look for when purchasing a car. First, is the car seat comfortable? If the seat isn't comfortable after being adjusted properly, it probably won?t be comfortable after a long period of driving. Second, can you make all of the adjustments to accommodate comfort that you want? The seat distance, height and backrest angle should all be adjustable for a minimum level of comfort. After those adjustments, others such as the seat angle tilt, lumbar support, headrest and armrest positions should be adjustable for maximum comfort.

Last, try the seat in several different postures to ensure that the seat will remain comfortable through an extended period in the car.

After purchasing a car with the right car seat for you, taking breaks from driving on long trips will ease back and neck pain. If you are the only driver, stop and take a short walk and stretch.

If possible, switch drivers to give leg, back and neck muscles a break. Maintain good posture while driving by sitting erect and not slouching, leaning to the side or excessively reclining the back of the seat.

While prevention of postural stress on neck and back structures is optimal, for relief of strains and pain, contact a physical therapist with approval of your physician. Your physical therapist will provide treatment as well as instruct in correct body mechanics and how to avoid a reinjury.


  • Carolyn Bloom lives in Eudora. She is a physical therapist with offices in Eudora, Lawrence and Topeka.

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