As a sport and remedial massage therapist as well as a former London Taxi driver, I am familiar with the postural habits one acquires over the years while driving. Many people drive for many hours every day … but what is it doing to your body? Your instinct may be that you’re just sitting, it can’t be that bad, right?
Sit in your car and observe the position of your legs, feet and arms.
Your right foot stretches out to reach the gas pedal, your knee is extended beyond 90 degrees.
Your hip flexors (muscles that raise your knee) are set in a shortened state.
A further twist to your pelvis to allow you to reach the gas pedal (and a wallet in the back pocket will further twist the pelvis, elevating one side higher than the other).
You may steer with the right hand whilst your elbow rests on the window rotating your arm and shoulder inwards. The elbow on the window may cause your upper body to slouch over to that side, creating a sideways curve in your spine.
Your torso is likely to be slumped – even with the best will in the world, your body eventually relaxes into the contours of the seat, shortening and weakening your stomach muscles whilst pushing the curve of your lower spine outwards.
Both shoulders are likely to be hunched up due to the stresses of driving.
Finally, your head leans forward looking at traffic lights and road name signs whilst the brain fights to keep your vision horizontal and forwards, making tiny tilting and rotation adjustments in the little muscles at the very top of your neck to compensate for what is happening further down the body.
What This Could Mean for Your Muscles
Now that you know where your body is being pulled out of position, let’s look at some common results of those postures:
Shortened hip flexors, a rotated pelvis, and slumped, weak abdominals all point to: lower back pain, sciatic symptoms.
An imbalanced pelvis can lead to what is known as a ‘functional leg length discrepancy’ where it appears that one leg is shorter than the other, but it’s really an imbalance in the pelvis drawing one leg higher up into the pelvis than the other.
The strain of your neck when holding your head forward is similar to the strain on your arms holding a bowling ball out in front of you for a time – the difference is your neck muscles are smaller than your arm muscles, but your head isn’t smaller than a bowling ball. Elongated, tight, achey neck and shoulder and short, weak muscles at the front of your neck are common effects of this position.
Any time your muscles are held in a position for a period of time (curvature in the spine, extension of the arms, shortening across the chest) the tissue starts to adopt that position – so if you’re driving with your elbow out a lot don’t be surprised if the muscles in your back start to hold that curve in your spine even when you’re not in the car.
So What Can You Do?
There are some aspects of driving that you can’t change, and the only way to address them is through stretching or massage.
While driving, though, try the following:
When you’re not having to crane under the windscreen, tuck your chin so the back of your neck is long and straight and chin approximately parallel to the ground. It’s important not to overdo it, so just find a position that feels comfortable.
Draw your shoulder blades down your back and in towards each other (activating your mid and lower trapezius vs. your lats or your rhomboids) to prevent your shoulders from going up to your ears and/or round and forward.
Rolling a towel up and placing it behind your lower back is a good way to decrease lower back pain while driving.
Try to keep your leg alignment straight, from hip to knee to foot, rather than rotating out or in.
Take regular breaks.
And whenever you’re not in your car, try and improve your posture to counteract the effects when you’re in it. A few general hamstring and quadriceps stretches, along with some arm circles, can go a long way to counteract the effects of your position in the car.
How Sports Massage and Biomechanical Screening Can Help
Now that you’re aware of the imbalances in your posture while driving, you may want more information about what’s going on or how you can address it.
When you come for a sport and remedial massage, we always assess posture and movement to build an overall picture of your compensatory patterns, enabling the targeting of specific problematic areas during the session.You’ll receive some simple realignment exercises to do at home/work, to reinforce the changes made within the session and help counteract the effects of the poor postures of driving.
Neil Carpenter is a Sports & Remedial Massage Therapist and Biomechanics Trainer and is a member of the United Kingdom Biomechanics Coaching Association. He is available on Wednesdays from 12.00 – 20.30.
Important note: None of the movements or adjustments suggested above should be painful or feel significantly uncomfortable. If you have prolonged pain or discomfort generally it is a good idea to consult with a physician. The above suggestions are for general use, we recommend you consult with a health professional prior to starting any new exercise, stretch or adjustment to ensure it is appropriate for you as an individual.