Could Driving Be Causing Your Back Pain?

Driving can be a painful experience for your back especially for those of us that have to drive regularly for a living. 

driving causing back pain

Life on the road can be full of frustrations at the best of times right? 

Traffic everywhere you go, nowhere to park, boy racers, Sunday drivers, road rage animals..... the list goes on and on.

​So the last thing you need when you're behind the wheel is for your back to start hurting. 

Unfortunately for many of us lower back pain and driving go hand in hand. ​

However while back problems can be a real pain for drivers they are far worse among those that have to drive for a living. 

​Truckers, bus drivers, taxi drivers and delivery drivers spend day after day in their vehicles and this can be a disaster for their bodies. 

As people that spend more than a couple of hours driving per day are at a higher risk of developing back, neck and shoulder pain. ​

Ouch! ​

But why is back pain so common among drivers?​

Why Do You Get Back Pain When Driving?

Getting back pain while driving seems a bit puzzling at first.

I mean you're not really doing anything strenuous are you? You're just sitting down relaxed in the warm with your music on working the pedals.

So what's the problem?​

Well a big part of it is the sitting down but that is not the whole story.

In fact there are three reasons why your back can start to ache during a long drive:​

  • A prolonged period of sitting in the same position.
  • Whole body vibrations from your vehicle.
  • Poor driving ergonomics.

Let me explain these one by one.

Prolonged Sitting

Sitting has been referred to being the new smoking in recent times because of the damage it can do to your health.

And a big part of this damage is what it can do to your back.

But why is this?​

Well sitting in the same position for an extended period of time is damaging to your lower back in two ways.

Firstly when you sit down the vertebrae of your spine become compressed and when they are squeezed like this they can't take in the oxygen and nutrients they need to stay healthy.

This causes them to weaken which is bad news because our backs rely on them to:

  • Act as a ligament to hold the spine together.
  • Assist the vertebrae in making small movements without pain.
  • Become shock absorbers to protect the spine from the impact as you move around.

So when they weaken we lose these qualities and our spines become less protected, lose flexibility and experience more pain.

Secondly when you are sat down at the wheel the muscles that your back relies on for support (such as the core, hamstrings, glutes, groin and abdominal muscles) remain inactive.

This inactivity weakens them making them tighter, more painful and unable to offer the amount of support and protection that your back needs.

And this only increases the pressure and strain on your lower back.​

It can also cause muscle imbalances to develop which can pull your spine out of alignment and give you postural problems too.​

​So your back ends up under increasing strain from both of these things which is when it starts to get angry!

Whole Body Vibrations

While sitting down for a few hours is bad for your back, doing it while driving is far, far worse.

And the reason for this is the vibrations you get from the vehicle while you sit.

These constant vibrations are absorbed by your whole body as you drive and can wreak havoc on your health.

And they increase the pressure on your already compressed discs making the problems in your back even worse. 

To imagine the effects these whole body vibrations have on you think about how you feel when using things with similar vibrations such as pneumatic drills.

These are definitely NOT good vibrations.

Even after just a couple of hours of using one you feel like you can still feel the vibrations in your body for hours afterwards.

Well it's the same thing when you are driving and this can really harm your body if it is exposed to these vibrations for a few hours or more every day.

For instance, certain studies have found prolonged sitting and exposure to whole body vibrations to be two of the biggest factors in developing lower back pain.

So watch out for those vibrations!

Driving Ergonomics

The set up of your vehicle and the way you sit inside it can also have a big influence over whether you experience back pain or not when driving.

​For example many vehicles come with seats that don't fit the driver driving them.

​Added to that many people don't know how to sit correctly when driving to keep their backs healthy.

Keep both hands on the wheel!

So the following things all have an impact:

  • ​Sitting with a bad posture.
  • Using a car seat that is too low and doesn't offer the right amount of lumbar support.
  • Having the seat too far away from the steering wheel and pedals.
  • The position of the steering wheel and how you hold it.
  • Does the vehicle have a good enough suspension to protect your back from jolts and bumps in the road?

Get these things wrong and you are adding more pressure and strain onto your lower back.

Back Pain From Driving Is More Of A Risk For Those That Do It For A Living

driving back pain

Now that statement probably sounds pretty obvious right? But it's a fact nevertheless.

Many scientific studies have been carried out on the health of those that drive for a living.

review of 25 of them found that professional drivers exposed to whole body vibrations were four times more likely to develop lower back pain than office workers despite sitting for the same length of time every day.

Four times!​

​And while this is worrying news for car and taxi drivers it can be far worse for HGV, truck and bus drivers.

​This is because they are exposed to much higher levels of these damaging vibrations and often in vehicles that lack the right suspension, seating and protection.

For instance, in 2015 the Bureau of Labor Statistics ​in the US found that truckers suffered three times more workplace injuries than everyone else.  

While another study found that truckers were significantly more likely to develop back and neck pain than office workers.​

And it's not just back pain you have to look out for either.

​Truckers were also more likely to suffer from heart disease, stress, stomach problems and fatigue.


But don't despair because there are steps you can can take to minimise the risk of back pain when driving.

And this applies to you even if you have to drive a truck or a bus.​

Also check out these gift ideas for truck drivers that can help to keep you fit, healthy, and happy on the road.

How To Prevent Back Pain When Driving

Ok the bad news is for the good news!

And that is that driving doesn't have to lead to back, neck and shoulder pain.​

Because by making sure both you and your vehicle are set up correctly you can make driving a far more comfortable and pleasant experience.

So what do you need to do?

Well here is a list of a few things that will help:​

  • Maintain a healthy posture as you drive.
  • Make sure the steering wheel is positioned centrally, don't sit too far away it and keep both hands on it as you drive.
  • Adjust your mirrors so you don't have to strain your neck to use them.
  • Place a lumbar support cushion behind your lower back if your car seat doesn't have adequate lumbar support.
  • Optimise your vehicle to keep your back healthy with things like power steering and good shock absorbers.
  • Take regular breaks from driving to get out, mobilise and stretch your body.
  • Be careful when loading and unloading your vehicle after a long drive.

I've created an article that goes into detail about how you can do all of these things and more that you can read by clicking below:

16 tips to prevent back pain when driving.​

So don't delay and start changing your driving habits today.

Your back will thank you for it in the long run.​

Rounding Up

Driving can be a stressful activity but when it is accompanied by lower back pain it can become a nightmare.

Especially when you have to do it for a living.

And unfortunately back pain is common among professional drivers as the extended periods of sitting and inactivity coupled with the vibrations for the vehicle all put your back under serious strain and pressure.

However driving doesn't have to be painful.

By becoming aware and employing the tactics I describe here you can drive more comfortably and keep your back fitter, healthier and stronger.

So don't let back pain drive you mad. Do something about it today.​

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I'm a Painter and Decorator, psychology graduate, and veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help my fellow construction workers to fight back against persistent back pain like I have.

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