Most of us drive (or sit in the car as a passenger) a certain amount of miles each week. Of course the relative importance of the car seat position is greater for those with greater weekly mileage, yet everyone should take the rudimentary steps to ensure support for the back and the neck while in the car / van / truck / lorry / tractor.
Over use injuries are a common companion to many people driving the length and width of the country. These arise as the body is forced into an abnormal, and uncomfortable position for long periods. The injury itself may be relatively minor, yet the ensuing compensations are what most people notice over the course of weeks and months. The culprit in most cases is the angle of the spine in relation to hips. This is brought on by slumping into the car seat in the same way as you would into your sofa. As a result the muscles of the low back are under tremendous stress, which will lead to symptoms radiating to the legs as well as the upper back and shoulders – sometimes culminating in sciatica and headaches.
A good car seat position is very similar to that of sitting well in your office chair or whilst watching telly in your living room. The easiest way to think about it is to deviate as little as possible from the anatomical neutral. This involves upright angle of the spine (both back
and neck), hips tucked back into the fold of the seat, knees lying below the level of hips (sometimes impossible with certain low slung sports cars), pedals within reach of the feet, and finally ability to reach the steering wheel with the elbows bent.
Getting into the good position for the first time may take a few minutes as you may need to adjust the seat in various different ways. It may also feel very strange, or very different from what you are used to – yet it will make sense as you examine the new situation a bit more closely.
1) As you get into the car, leave the door open so you have a bit more room to manouevre.
2) When sat in your seat, lean all the way forward (forehead resting on the top of the steering wheel if possible) and wiggle your bum all the way back into the fold of the seat
3) Staying in the forward leaning position, fasten your seat belt and tug the lap belt nice and tight. This will lock your hips back in the seat and facilitate the good upright angle for your spine.
4) With your hips securely in the back of the seat, now sit up leaning your back onto the backrest.
5) Adjust the seat position. You may need to bring your seat one or two clicks forward to reach the pedals comfortably. This means that you can press all of the pedals by extending your ankle – without needing to move your hips.
6) Adjust the backrest angle. You may now need to bring the backrest back a bit, as the seat has come forward. You should be able to reach the wheel with your elbows hanging down in front of you in a relaxed manner. As long as your hips are held to the back of the seat, it does not matter how far back you recline (within reason) as the angle of your spine will remain neutral.
7) You may need to adjust the height of the seat as well. Now as you are sitting more upright you may need to bring the seat down a bit so that your head does not scrape the ceiling.
8) Adjust the mirrors to suit your new driving position.
9) Remember to remove the wallet from your back pocket! Over longer distances this may cause irritation of the sciatic nerve and the buttock muscles, and even cause a pelvic injury.
10) Consult your chiropractor – tell them where the problems are, when they arise and what other factors may be involved. Back problems very rarely go away on their own.
When getting used to the new driving position it is advisable to test it on shorter journeys to begin with. Take time to adjust your seat on a few consecutive journeys as the position will somewhat change as your body is getting used to it. If you are doing a longer journey, try and take a break to walk around every 60 minutes or so.
The best example of an exellent driving position comes from the world of motor racing – namely rally. Rally drivers require the position to give them the quickest possible reactions, the shortest distance required to travel to reach various controls, the best economy of movement in the car, and the greatest sustainable endurance in the driving position. This all makes sense, as they tend to drive down narrow and bumpy roads at break-neck speeds, where lightning reactions are a must to ensure not only good result but sometimes survival. Of course the requirements are slightly different for the average commuter or mum’s taxi, yet the principles remain the same.
The biomechanically correct position will reduce the risk of injury.