a few months ago

Did You Know That Driving Could 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. 

But unfortunately for many of us lower back pain and driving seem to go hand in hand. 

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

As truckers, bus drivers, taxi drivers and delivery drivers have to spend day after day in their vehicles which can be a disaster for their bodies.

As people that spend that 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? And how can you avoid it?

Read on and I'll explain.

Why Do You Get Back Pain When Driving?

Getting back pain while driving may seem 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, and working the pedals.

So what's the problem?​

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

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

  • A prolonged period of sitting in the same position.
  • Absorbing whole body vibrations from your vehicle.
  • Bad driving ergonomics and habits.

And I'll go through these one by one now.

Prolonged Periods Of Sitting

Sitting has been referred to as 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 any impact as you move around.

So when they weaken we lose these qualities and our back becomes less protected, loses flexibility, and experiences more pressure and subsequently more pain.

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

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

Which only increases the pressure and strain on your lower back further.

And 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 why it starts to get angry!

Click here to find out how to avoid back pain from sitting.

Whole Body Vibrations From Your Vehicle

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

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

As these vibrations are being constantly absorbed by your whole body 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 that whole body vibrations have on you, think about how your body feels after using things with similar vibrations such as pneumatic drills.

As 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 gets exposed to these vibrations for a couple of hours or more every day.

For instance, 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 & Habits

The set up of your vehicle and the way you sit inside it also has 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, which forces them into an unhealthy posture that puts pressure on their back.

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

So the following things will 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.
  • Having your mirrors positioned so you don't have to twist your neck or body to use them.
  • The vehicles suspension not being good enough to protect your back from jolts and bumps in the road.
  • Driving for too long at a time and not taking regular breaks.

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

However, get them right and you can drive in more comfort and less pain.

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

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

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

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

Four times!​

And while this is worrying news for car and taxi drivers it's far worse for HGV, truck, and bus drivers.

Because they are exposed to much higher levels of damaging whole body vibrations and often in vehicles that lack the right suspension, supportive 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.

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

Wonderful!​

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 all day long.

How To Avoid Back Pain From Driving

Ok, I'll stop with the bad news now and move on to the good news.

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

Because making sure both you and your vehicle are set up correctly will 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 protect your back from excessive vibrations with things like power steering and good shock absorbers.
  • Take regular breaks from driving to get out, mobilise, and stretch your body.
  • Keep yourself well hydrated as you drive to keep your spinal discs healthy.
  • Be careful when loading and unloading your vehicle after a long drive.
  • Stay active in your day to day life and keep your core muscles strong to give your back extra support.
  • Try not to get angry and stressed behind the wheel.

And if you want more details on how to do this check out my article on 17 tips to avoid back pain when driving.

So don't delay, 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 on it's own.

But when it's 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.

As by getting into good driving habits and setting your vehicle up the right way you can drive more comfortably and keep your back healthier as you do so.

So don't let back pain behind the wheel drive you mad, do something about it today.

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Daniel

I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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