Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions are prevalent among habitual drivers. Whether you work in your vehicle or commute to work through rush-hour traffic, you may have experienced some level of back or neck pain. In fact, studies have shown a high incidence of work-related musculoskeletal injuries among people who drive for a living, and, according to the USDA, your chances of developing an MSK condition increase if you spend more than 20 hours per week behind the wheel.
Information about the health hazards of sedentary work continues to emerge, and spending long periods seated in the same position while driving can be as detrimental as sitting in front of a computer. In addition to the prolonged sitting, driving can add extra hazards like the swaying motion from turning corners, the vibrations of the car and rolling over speed bumps. It shouldn’t be surprising to hear that driving can be a risk to your musculoskeletal health.
However, taking every opportunity to choose alternate ways of transportation, such as cycling, walking or even jogging, could help enhance your MSK health. However, if you must drive for prolonged periods, here are some tips to help safeguard your MSK health:
1. Head position
Aside from the importance of keeping your eyes on the road, the position of your head and eyes is also important. Try to maintain a neutral spine, shoulders relaxed and chin tucked in slightly. Your attention should be on the task at hand, avoiding excessive twisting and bending. Interestingly, heavy coats with hoods, for example, can add pressure on the back of the head and shift the position of the head slightly forward exerting additional strain on the neck.
2. Take breaks
Long trips can be daunting. Your instinct might be to push through to get to your destination faster. But, you may be putting yourself in danger due to fatigue. Your body will welcome occasional breaks. Go for a short walk, play Frisbee with your kids or do a few of the gentle stretches included in our free app, Straighten Up Canada. It’s free and you can take your stretch routine wherever you go!
3. Lumbar support
Many vehicles are equipped with adjustable lumbar support. This can help to provide additional support to the natural curvature of your lumbar spine. If your vehicle does not have adequate lumbar support, consider using a small pillow or rolled-up towel.
4. Don’t sit on your wallet
Do you keep your wallet in your back pocket? Change in your hip pocket? This can throw off your alignment, shift weight and cause a tilt in your pelvis. If you sit this way long enough, it can result in pain and discomfort. Empty your pockets before getting into the car. Your spine will thank you.
5. Avoid the twist
Make sure the things you might need while in transit, such as sunglasses or tissues, are placed within arm’s reach. Twisting and bending to reach for things in the passenger seat or even the back seat can be dangerous for your health. Not only are you distracted, but twisting and over-reaching can create some pressure on your spine and strain back muscles.
Remember, if you are uncomfortable at the beginning of your trip, it is likely to get worse. Take the time to make the appropriate adjustments. Your chiropractor is also a great resource for back-saving tips.