If you spend a lot of time in your car then this post is for you…and let’s face it, if you're reading this you most likely live in Melbourne, so there is a good chance you DO spend too large a portion of your life driving, sorry, I mean, in traffic.
If reading this whole post isn't really for you, then feel free to skip down to the end where I will summarise how to set yourself up in your care in a checklist.
What is the issue?
As a society, we appear to give a lot of attention to ergonomics for when we are setting up an office work station, or using a computer, but thats often where our attention to the issue ends.
We are guilty of it too!
If you follow this blog you will know that we have recently posted about how best to set up your computer or your laptop, we have talked about ways to avoid text neck when using your smart phone or tablet. We have even discussed how to sit and the importance of limiting how long we sit for, yet all of those are predominantly centred around screen time, or when you are in an office.
The reality is, the office, be it at work or at home is only a PART of how we spend every day. Important as good ergonomics are during these times, we need to remember that improved spinal health, being mindful of our posture and maintaining high levels of function are 24/7 activities.
We are the result of what we do the most.
To be more precise, our body will get better at whatever we ask it to do the most, so it is important to ask yourself regularly throughout the day:
“What am I asking my body to do right now?”
This is why we often tell our clients that the most important thing they can do for themselves throughout the work day is to get up out of their chair and move around.
One place where getting up and moving around is not really an option however is when we are in the car.
Kieran, I will not be getting a beaded car seat cover so don’t even mention it.
Fair point. I wouldn't want one either. I am far too car proud for that.
Most of my clients will probably already know that I am into cars and that I love driving.
I am fortunate enough that my commute is very short, so much so that I mostly get the opportunity to walk or ride my bike to the practice. I do however get to spend a lot of time in the car though, as I enjoy driving almost everywhere else and spend most of my weekends heading out of the city to go camping, hiking or traveling to visit family in Bendigo.
One thing I don’t like about driving though, is how easy it can be to make myself very sore if I haven't set the car up properly.
A poor driving position can lead to (among other things):
Low back pain,
pins and needles in your legs or arms,
Sciatic pain and most dangerous of all,
an inability to control your car properly.
Setting your car up is easy
Fortunately we live in a world where other people have done most of the hard work for us and your car is no exception.
Car companies have employed a literal team of people to make your car so that it is able to get you to YOUR ideal driving position, however most of us rarely use all of the functions they have bent hundreds of hours developing.
It doesn’t matter whether you drive something fun and sporty, or purely as a taxi you use to ferry your children, the following suggestions should be able to apply to nearly every car you drive.
Step 1: Seat height and distance
When it comes to how high you sit in the car, too much of anything is a bad thing. Too high and you have to bend down to see out of the window clearly, too low and you will struggle to see everything you have to avoid.
You want to be a comfortable height to be able to see everything easily over the steering wheel without extra effort. Seems like a no brainer I know but you do wee some weird things out there.
Distance from the pedals is important too. You never want to be reaching for the pedals…obviously but you don't want to have your knees too bent either.
If you are too close, you have to actively position your feet for too long leading to hip issues. On top of this, if your knee is close to or is resting on the dash board, then your leg bones will have to act like an air bag to slow you down in an accident…which is less than ideal if you're the kind of person that enjoys having legs.
Ideally, the best distance from the seat to the pedals would mean that in a manual car, your knee should be *almost* straight but not quite when you press the clutch in all the way. About a 5 degree knee bend in that position should be it.
In an auto, the same rule applies for you to be able to leave your foot on the foot rest (look for it, you most likely have one to the left of the brake pedal) but if you don't have one, you should have that same 5 degree knee bend when your foot rests on the firewall (thats the carpet behind the pedals).
This should also mean that when you take your left hand off the steering wheel it should be able to rest comfortably on the gear stick without having to reach for it, allowing your shoulders to remain relaxed.
Step 2: Steering wheel position
Have the steering wheel at a distance where you can relax your hands onto the 10 and 2 positions on the wheel without leaning forward and having to round your shoulders, keeping a relaxed bend in your elbows.
This means you have the most control of the wheel without having to grip onto it, strain your shoulders or your low back to reach for it.
Another easy way to know if its in a good spot, is when you rest your wrists onto the top of the steering wheel, it should sit *just* at your wrists.
Move it to a height where your hands can sit at 10 and 2 roughly in front of your shoulders, you don't want to have to go reaching up or down to find the steering wheel.
Most cars now have an electric steering wheel movement, but if not, its easy to unclip the handles on the steering column and play around with its position, moving it up and down or forward and back. Take your time with its one, when you get it right, you’ll know.
Step 3: Head position
If you have done the other two right then this should already be set, but just make sure your head isn't having to lean forward too far and is relaxed over the top of your shoulders.
If it is leaning forward, readjust your steering wheel closer to you.
Watch out for car seats that push your head forward. Bad posture is so common that engineers in some car companies have started building their seats to have the head rests moving forward to meet where they assume people with poor postures heads will be.
This forces you into a bad position and over time will GIVE you forward head posture. Personally I have not been able to buy certain cars because of this, and I know it has meant Martin has had to choose a different brand when replacing one of his.
You also shouldn’t need to rest your head back on the head rest.
The name is deceptive, you should have active control of your head, it shouldn't have to be pushed back into the head rest. Its the name of a safety feature in a crash, not a suggested use.
Step 4: Lumbar support
If your car has inbuilt lumbar support, don't be afraid to use it. When you find the right spot for you, you will be amazed that you ever drove without it.
If need be, you can always buy a lumbar support pillow to use when you are driving for long periods or on longer road trips.
Step 5: Never drive with something in your back pocket.
Thats right men who keep a wallet in your back pocket when you're driving, I am talking to you. I don’t care how long you have done it for, it causes an unevenness under you that WILL eventually lead to back pain and even sciatica in some cases.
The same goes for mobile phones. They seem small but even on a short trip they make a difference to how you have to sit. I don’t care HOW short the drive is.
Again, it seems obvious but people do it.
Step 6: Take breaks regularly.
Especially if you are driving a distance. They don't only stop you from feeling fatigued, they allow your body to wake up as well, and they don’t even have to take long! Even a 2-5 minute walk can do the trick.
As promised, here is the checklist:
Step 1: Height and distance
Seat at a height where you can see everything without straining to have your eyes above the wheel or below the sun visors.
Sit at a distance where your foot can relax at the back of the foot well with your knee bent slightly to around 5 degrees.
Step 2: Steering wheel
Bring it close enough to have a slight bend in your elbows when your hands are at 10 and 2, you should be able to rest your wrists on the top of the wheel without reaching for it with your shoulders.
Step 3: Head position
Like sitting at a computer, above your shoulders, not poking forward at the steering wheel.
Step 4: Lumbar support
Play around with it until it feels good for extended periods. This might take some experimenting. If you need to, buy a support cushion.
Step 5: Nothing in your back pockets.
Step 6: Take breaks.
If you have any questions or concerns, would like to chat about how to set up your car please contact us at Align, we would love to help you.
However, if you're happy with your car set up but would like to chat about cars specifically, please feel free to talk to me about it…don’t bother talking about them with Martin…they aren't really his thing.