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How To Stop Driving Becoming A Pain In The Neck, Butt and Back

Lower-Back-PainSpending too long in the driver’s seat (or, for that matter, the passenger seat) can be hard on your back.  One very good friend of mine suffered from mysterious back pain during a time that his job involved very long driving hours… and this “mystery” pain cleared up as quickly as leftovers discovered by seagulls when the driving hours reduced to just a few hours per day. Driving is fun, but do too much of it and it becomes a literal pain in the neck. Or backside. Or back. Or hips…

Yes, car seats are very comfortable, at least in more modern models (we’ll ignore the vinyl-covered horrors of the 1980s and 1970s, classics though they may be).  Many have lumbar support and nice, supportive headrests, and allow you to adjust them this way and that.  However, if you don’t have all the fancy features in your particular set of wheels or if you don’t take the time to adjust the seat to fit your body, apart from making sure that you can reach the pedals and steering wheel comfortably, you can be putting yourself at risk of back pain.

If you do just a wee bit of driving on a daily basis – a regular commute that adds up to maybe three hours a day maximum, you won’t put yourself at much risk of backache. Go for longer drives of four or five hours plus, especially if you do it regularly, and you can end up with aches and twinges that may get you worrying about early onset arthritis and lumbago.

So what do you do if you have to drive for longer periods but you don’t want it to be a literal pain? After all, if you’re uncomfortable and pain in your lower back is nagging away at you just about constantly, then this will take some of your attention from your driving… to say nothing of reducing  your pleasure.

OK, here’s some handy hints:

Sit properly.  This is an absolute basic and we ought to do it even on short journeys. The right way to sit is with your feet firmly planted on the floor (at least when they’re not working the pedals) with your knees slightly higher than your hips (now you know why some seats have tilt adjustment).  Your back should be pressed against the back of the seat – no slouching or hunching over.  If your car seats don’t have lumbar support or if they don’t have enough lumbar support, you can play around with cushions to make sure that your back is properly supported.  Pay particular attention to your “lumbar lordosis”, which is doctor-speak for that curve in your lower back just above your bottom.

Make sure that you can reach the steering wheel without much stretching – if it’s too much of a stretch, this will encourage you to hunch over to reach it properly. OK, you don’t want the steering wheel to be prodding you in the tummy or bumping you if you lean forward to adjust the mirror or adjust the air con.  But don’t have it so far away that you have to adopt the cartoon zombie position (arms stretched out straight at shoulder height).

Make sure that your shocks and suspension are in good order, and get the tyre pressure right.  Bouncing about puts a lot of pressure on your spine (and the spines of your passengers).  You can do what you can to avoid potholes and charging at speed bumps full bore, of course.

Keep your back muscles warm.  This is why heated seats were invented by Saab and why they’re so popular in most modern cars.  Warmth helps stop the muscles cramping and stiffening up, so your back won’t get as sore. Plus the comfort of heated seats also encourages you to sit with your back pressed against the seat where it should be.

Get out and move! Holding any position for a long time is going to put stress on your muscles. It won’t do your heart or your waistline any good, either. This means that you need to go for a little walk every so often when you’re driving.  This has the added bonus of freshening you up (and I don’t just mean because you need to head to the loo) and reducing driver fatigue.  If you are driving for a holiday, this means that you have an excuse to stop and take photos of the scenery or check out that park or whatever takes your fancy. You could do some of those exercises to prevent lower back pain but these aren’t particularly practical on the forecourt of the petrol station…

Clear out your pockets.  Having a big lumpy wallet (lucky you!) in your back pocket makes it hard to sit comfortably. The same goes for cellphones and your house keys.  Lumps and hard objects in your trousers (get your mind out of the gutter right now!) encourage you to sit at a less than ideal position.  There’s a reason why cars have a multitude of storage compartments around the cabin, so empty out your pockets. Right now, all the women with handbags are feeling a bit smug…

While researching this article, I came across one suggestion from a back specialist that you should only drive passenger cars rather than utes or SUVs.  This is somewhat extreme in our opinion but if you have bad back problems, it might be worth considering.  However, it’s not really practical if you need something big to tow the trailer or the caravan for miles on end!


  1. Ray calnan says:

    Hi, you have missed one important factor regarding posture and driving comfort in most new cars.
    That is, the position of the head rest is most unnatural, and cannot be adjusted to suit each individual driver.
    I recently bought a new car and after a few weeks find the head rest position most uncomfortable.
    Please do not tell me it is a standard, as not everybody is standard in posture and build.
    These necessary articles should be adaptable to suit individual comfort..

    September 26th, 2016 at 8:13 pm

  2. Megan says:

    Thanks for the tip. You’re not alone in having this problem with headrests, especially if there’s more than one driver using the car and they’re different heights. Hopefully, the car manufacturers will take note of this.

    October 3rd, 2016 at 7:47 am