Prolonged Sitting is a proposed risk factor for the development of low back pain, but research suggests the risk is actually increased with awkward sitting positions such as over-flexed trunk, or a twisted trunk. Do you check your posture before driving off? Do you leave your wallet in your back pocket?
‘Non - neutral’ sitting postures are often adopted when we are sitting in a car seat and can cause an over-flexed lumbar spine. Sustained flexion in the lower spine can lead to a passive stretch on the spinal tissues affecting the mechanical properties in the discs, ligaments and muscles. The stretch can sprain ligaments in the back, increase stiffness and alter the muscular control of joint structures.
So you need to take care lifting your luggage and those presents out of the car if you’re a bit stiff and the muscles aren’t doing what they are meant to!
Here's a few tips to set you up for a more comfortable journey
Too big for your car?
Be realistic - how tall are you? Do you have to have the seat very low to be able to get in the car? Do your knees hit the steering wheel? If you are making a long journey, travel in something that you fit in comfortably.
Take a break
A major relief for pain and stiffness is movement so take regular breaks, just like you would in an office chair or at home. People with current back pain may need to stop more frequently so factor this into your journey too.
Hips above knees
Look at the seat of your chair - does it look horizontal or is the front aspect higher than the back? If the back of the seat is lower, this encourages you to sit with your knees higher than your hips which can put strain on the muscles and ligaments in the lower back. When adjusting your seat make sure your hips are the same height, if not higher than your knees. This can be done by sitting on a rolled up towel (just under the sit bones) or using a wedge cushion.
Most cars now come with adjustable lumbar supports to help you maintain the natural curve in your lower back and prevent the over flexed position. To make sure the curve of the support fits your back, the bottom of the lumbar support should sit at the top of the pelvis or belt line. If your car doesn't have this - rolling up a towel or a cushion and placing it just above your belt line will have a similar effect. You can also buy add on lumbar supports to hang on your chair.