The Ergonomics of Driving
Low back pain is a common complaint when driving long distances but it’s not the only complaint. Neck, leg and arm discomfort can also happen if you’re not positioned properly and taking regular breaks. Here are some positioning tips that should help prevent the discomfort of a long drive.
Make sure the seat you’re sitting in is supportive. The seat back should be wide and high enough to support your shoulders and your headrest should be positioned behind your head.
Your seat should be positioned so that your legs are supported as well. If your seat is too far forward your thighs will be up off the seat and if you’re too far forward you’ll have to stretch to reach the pedals.
Lumbar support is also important on a long drive. The low back muscles can become fatigued if the lumbar region is unsupported causing low back pain. If the car you’re driving doesn’t have good lumbar support you can get a back rest with lumbar support or roll up a towel/T-shirt and tuck it behind your lower back.
The seat belt should be adjusted so that it is going over your shoulder. It should not rub on your neck and you should never tuck it under your arm.
Distance from the steering wheel is another important positioning consideration. You should be close enough that your arms are slightly bent at the elbow.
Many things in a car are adjustable such as the seat, steering wheel positioning and seatbelt height. Take the time to make the adjustments before you leave and remember to take breaks about every two hours to have a good stretch and reduce fatigue.
If you are using a back pack for hiking feel free to bring it in and Dr. Rodwin can ensure you have the straps set-up properly to place less stress on the neck, shoulders, middle and lower back.
Important Tip: Many patients when placing their right foot on the gas pedal will turn their foot/leg/hip outwards to reach the gas pedal. This then causes foot, knee, hip, and lower back problems to arise. Please just bring your leg over the put the foot on the gas pedal sideways and not ROTATING!
DO NOT reach into the back seat of the car or over to the passenger seat to get your bag, aid children, etc. This causes injuries to the neck, shoulders, and upper back.
Many things in a car are adjustable such as the seat, steering wheel positioning and seatbelt height. Take the time to make the adjustments before you leave and remember to take breaks about every two hours in order to have a good stretch and to reduce fatigue.
Take the time to make sure you’re comfortable from the moment you set off on your trip. The smallest irritant in the beginning of your trip can turn into raging pain later. Don’t have your wallet, cell phone, or anything else in your back pocket, as that may throw your spine out of alignment.
Get out and move around
Your spine is designed to move. Sitting in one position in a car will stiffen up your back muscles and can lead to achiness and possibly muscle spasm. If possible, plan ahead for to schedule stops—ideally every 2 hours—and get out of the car so you can move around and stretch. Movement stimulates blood circulation, which brings nutrients and oxygen to your lower back.
In between exercise stops, try to move a little in your seat. Even 10 seconds of movement and stretching is better than sitting still. At a minimum adjust your seat and change your position slightly every 15 to 20 minutes. Pump your ankles to keep the blood flowing and provide a slight stretch in your hamstring muscles. Any movement that is safe to do in the car will help you out.
If you are the driver and have cruise in the vehicle you are driving, place the vehicle on cruise and move your legs around.
Bring along a cold pack
If you have back pain, it may be a good idea to bring an ice pack or cold pack along in the car with you. Most back pain is accompanied by inflammation. Applying a cold pack can reduce the inflammation and numb sore tissues. Please remember to always use a towel or another protective barrier to avoid ice burn.
Here are some options:
• Bring a cooler in the car with you and keep reusable ice packs in it, or make your own ice pack and bring it along
• Use ice cubes in a Ziploc bag, double the bags up to avoid the water leaking on you.
• Use Biofreeze: This is a product we sell at the clinic to aid in icing. You can roll it on, spray it on or rub it on. Ask Dr. Barbara Rodwin for a free sample pack to try!
Sleeping in the car
It’s important to support your head and neck while sleeping in the car. Ideally, using a travel pillow, the type that contours around your neck, would be best. Otherwise, rolling up a towel or article of clothing and placing it behind your neck will offer added support.
Carrying luggage can cause back, shoulder and neck pain. There are some things you can do to decrease the risk of injury.
When you roll your luggage try to push the luggage and not pull it behind you. Doing it this way will decrease neck,shoulder and back problems. Always lift with the weight of the luggage close to your body and USE YOUR LEGS WHEN LIFTING.
When you take it off the luggage belt ensure you lift with your legs, step straight back and then turn your whole body to put it down. Often people rotate through the torso to turn and put their luggage down which then causes lower back problems to occur.
Before going on a long drive or flight, be sure to remove bulky items from your back pockets! Sitting on objects such as wallets causes misalignments of the body resulting in joint issues in the hips and back, muscle fatigue, and strains to occur.
If you’re travelling outside Canada it might be necessary to get vaccinations to protect you from diseases such as Hepatitis, Typhoid Fever or Yellow Fever to name a few. The vaccinations you require depend on where you’re travelling to.
Some immunizations can take several weeks before they are effective protection so it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about what vaccinations you need around 6 to 8 weeks before you actually go on your trip.
For more information on necessary vaccinations when travelling check with the Public Health Agency of Canada, a travel health clinic or your physician.
Some people find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep while camping. There are some things you can look at when pitching your tent that can help. Look for a smooth and level area that has some good wind blocking plants growing nearby. Avoid low lying areas because they may be cooler and damp.
Make sure your sleeping bag is good for the temperature at the time. There are sleeping bags for 3 season camping and for winter camping. Some sleeping bags can be zipped together with another to make a double sleeping bag for couples. There are mummy sleeping bags that give a snugger fit and tend to keep you warmer. These mummy sleeping bags also have a hood that you can tighten around your head. The fill in your sleeping bag will depend on what kind of camping you’re doing and how much weight you want to carry.
Pad underneath you with the extra clothes you brought or purchase a lightweight Therma-rest that you can inflate to put underneath you. Your back will feel a lot better with using this!
If you’ve got the space a travel pillow is quite nice and prevents those nasty kinks in the neck, but many people can’t justify the added weight and space so just use a rolled up sweater instead.
Flying and Sleeping in Other Beds
When flying ensure that you are careful with lifting your suitcase onto the luggage belt, bend your knees and use your legs to help lift the suitcase. When placing it in the overhead compartment be careful with the way in which you lift it up there. You can injure your shoulders when doing this.
When you sit in your seat you should: place a towel or T-shirt behind your lower back to add support to the lower back, place your feet on your bag on the floor as this will take pressure off the legs and lower back, make use of a neck pillow to avoid turning your
head and neck to the side as this will injure you neck and can cause a lot of pain if you wake up from sleeping in this position! If you do not have a neck pillow for support just prop a T-shirt or your jacket beside your head instead.
You should get up and walk around when flying and try to stand up and do some stretches.
When sleeping in other beds the mattress can be too hard sometimes. Just ask for extra blankets to cushion the hard mattress and this can prevent you from having lower back discomfort in the morning.
You should try to travel with your own pillow. If you are unable to do this then check the pillow to ensure it is the right height and softness for you. If the pillow is too low then take a towel and place it under the pillow raise it up to your height, if it is too high ask for a different pillow. If it is too soft again ask for a different pillow. You can also just roll up a towel and sleep with this.
Gather Your Ergonomic Beach Equipment
All winter, you dreamt about lying out on a beach towel, baking in the summer sun. But not only is this vision enough to give your dermatologist a heart attack, it’s also not a great vision for your ergonomist, either. Sand, despite all appearance, is hard and lumpy, and on its own, it won’t provide nearly enough support for your neck and back. You can remedy this on your own by bringing along extra towels, which you can then ball up and use as a pillow and as lumbar support.
Your situation will also be somewhat improved if you opt instead to sit in a beach chair — all the more so if you opt for an ergonomic version, which will provide padding in all of the right places. Use a rolled-up towel behind your neck and one for your lower back.
If you have any questions regarding your travelling feel free to ask your health care provider for advise on travelling.