Ergonomics Driving

Driving is often an issue for people with back problems, and part of that is just the nature of the beast. Being fixed in one position for long periods of time without a break is not great at the best of times, then add onto that poor design and position of the pedals that may be forcing you to sit awkwardly, the load of constantly working the pedals (less so if you have an automatic) and steering wheel. And probably worst of all if you have any disk involvement is the constant vibration of the car on the road (which has been shown to destabilise inter vertebral disks).

The first and most simple thing you can do is to take breaks from driving. If you have been driving for longer than an hour, it is time to take a break. Walk around for at least 5-10 minutes before you start again. Plan ahead and account for these breaks in your journey and straight away your back will be better off.

Next thing to look at is your driving position and seat adjustment.

1- Adjusting the base of the seat backwards and forwards; Position the seat so that you can easily push the the pedals in the car all the way down with a nearly straight leg and without having to reach and move your bottom from its place in the back of the seat. So if the seat is too far backwards you will need to reach, if it is too close your leg will be more bent than it needs to be when depressing the pedals.


2- Adjusting the back rest of the seat; The ideal position for the back rest of the seat is at about a 110 degree angle. So not too upright, but also not too reclined back either. This position should feel comfortable (or as comfortable as it is going to get) in the lower back, the upper back and neck. If your seat has a second adjustment knob on the back (see in red on image below), use it to adjust the lumbar support to feel comfortable and supportive of the lower back.

Driving-Ergonomics-Seat-Adjustment2If your car seat does not have a lumbar adjustment, then you may want to consider getting yourself a ‘Back Friend’– this is a seat insert that is readily available online and will help support your pelvis and lower back while seated. It is also very useful if you find it uncomfortable sitting on sofas or other chairs, but be aware that it does not fit very well on some car seats, especially if the seat is very firm and ergonomically designed (in which case hopefully you wont need it anyway because you will be able to adjust the seat accordingly). I do have one in clinic for patients to try and see if it suits them, so do let me know if you want to borrow it next time you are in.

3- Height of the seat; If your car seat allows you to adjust the height of the seat, set it so that you have a good relation to the steering wheel. You want to be able to hold the lower half of the steering wheel with your arms at about chest height.


4- Head rest position; Position the headrest on the back of the seat so that the top of the head rest is roughly in line with your eyes, and tipped forwards (but not touching your head). Like that in case of an accident the headrest will support your head and help minimise the effects of a whiplash injury.


5- Finally, sit with your bottom right to the back of the seat, and relax back into the seat (don’t ride the wheel).


I hope that you find these suggestions useful, but ultimately driving is going to be one of the last things to become comfortable again if you have a back problem, so avoid it as much as possible (particularly during the acute phases). Drive an automatic car if that is an option and you have a long term back problem. Keep yourself fit and walk wherever possible (or if that is not possible, park so that you get a bit of a walk in and out of wherever you are going). An osteopath will look at getting things moving so that there is as little strain as possible throughout the body, but that is no replacement for doing the right thing and taking good care of your back 🙂

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