Photo: Matthew Henry (Unsplash)
If you’re someone who works at a desk most of the day, you may have taken steps to improve your posture and comfort at your workspace. Perhaps you installed an ergonomic keyboard, or sit on an exercise ball or with a back-supporting cushion to help minimize pain caused by long periods of sitting. But if your commute involves driving and—despite all office-related precautions—you’re still sore at the end of the day, it may be because of your driving posture.
So how do you go about improving the set-up and conditions in your car so they don’t hurt you? According to a physical therapist at the Cleveland Clinic, the key is to figure out what works for you at your desk and then apply that to your car.
“Set up your car to work for you and practice good driving ergonomics as if you were sitting at your desk at work,” Mary Morrison, PT, DScPT advises in a post from the Cleveland Clinic.
No, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go out and buy more gear—or those beaded seat covers—but taking the time to figure out what makes you most comfortable when driving could help a lot.
Trial and error
You probably won’t be able to get into your car and, by clicking a few buttons or pulling a few levers, end up in the most perfect comfortable driving position. According to Morrison, it will take some time to make the necessary adjustments. She suggests starting by making a few small changes at a time to help pinpoint what’s causing your pain. Begin by adjusting your seat into a new position for a few days to feel what feels best. Next, play around with different arm positions to find one that doesn’t make you to hold the wheel or see enough of the road.
But don’t try to change everything at once, Morrison warns:
“Changing too much too quickly could make your symptoms worse and leave you feeling clueless, so it’s a good idea to proceed with caution. You might not have the strength to sit in a new position for your entire 30 minute commute, so trying a new position for five minutes at a time is a good place to start.”
Tips for better driving posture
Not sure where to start when it comes to improving your driving posture? Morrison has a few suggestions for where to start:
Make your seat do the work
Now, most cars come equipped with a variety of ways to adjust the seat, so you can make sure the angle and distance from the steering wheel and pedals are as comfortable as possible. You don’t want to be sitting so far back that you’re struggling to hold onto the wheel or see the road. Ideally, your driving position should result in your spine being upright. According to Morrison, you experience the least amount of lower back disc pressure when the seat is inclined about 30 degrees. In addition to distance from the wheel and how far you’re reclined, also pay attention to how high or low you’re sitting in relation to the steering wheel. If you’re sitting in the ideal position, you should be able to sit back and let the seat do the work of supporting your alignment.
Relax your arms
Unlike panicked cartoon characters driving a car, your arms should not be completely straight, clutching the wheel. Instead, your arms should be relaxed and gently bent at the elbow. If you’re able to take advantage of arm rests to take a load off your back, Morrison suggests that you do it.
Keep your head back
If your seat is in the correct position, your head should have no trouble reaching the headrest, with your chin level and shoulders back. Morrison says to think about elongating your spine as you drive.
Ditch the “10 and 2” hand position
Despite what you were taught in driver’s ed, keeping your hands at “10 and 2” on the wheel may not be best for your posture—or your safety. Instead, positioning your hands at “4 and 8” can provide more neck and shoulder support.
If nothing works
If you’ve tried everything else, you may want to look into other aids, like a lumbar pillow, which may make your ride more comfortable. But if your pain persists, it’s best to bring it up to your doctor or physical therapist to see if something else is going on.