Avoid Back Pain When Driving

driving Holiday Getaways

This time of year is a great opportunity to get away, whether for day trips, the weekend, or the start of a longer break.


Unfortunately, many others have the same idea too! If you are facing a long or potentially delayed journey, keep our car travel tips in mind.

Driving posture

When you are driving your posture is just as important as in the office or walking around. For some it is a major aggravating factor of their pre-existing problem, but for many people it can actually be the cause of their pain, especially if they are regularly in the car for over an hour at a time. 


Not only does this affect the spine but also shoulders, hips and knees.


So what is the correct way to sit?

  • Start by pushing your hips to the back of the seat so your back is against the seat.
  • Move you chair forwards, close enough so that when your feet push the pedals there is still a slight bend in your knee, and your thighs can relax on the chair.
  • The steering wheel should be positioned so that it can be turned fully without having to lean forward. For long motorway journeys keep your hands and elbows low at your sides so that your shoulder and neck muscles can relax.
  • Your head should be approximately one inch from the headrest and in a position that avoids forward head carriage (see my other blog; domino effect of poor posture).
  • Finally roll your shoulders back and down so they are relaxed against the seat

More tips from the British Chiropractic Association:

Make adjustments

  • If you share a car, make sure the seat position is adjusted to suit you each time you get in. 
  • The back of the seat should be set slightly backwards, so that it feels natural and your elbows should be at a comfortable and relaxed angle for driving.

Steering wheel

  • Once you have adjusted your seat correctly, your hands should fall naturally on the steering wheel, with just a slight bend in the arms.
  • If the wheel is too high and far away, tension will build up in your shoulders and upper back. If it is too low and close to you, the wheel may be touching your legs, which will reduce your ability to turn it freely, putting strain on the wrists and the muscles of the upper back.


  • Your reactions must be quick, so you should not need to move your head a lot. The mirror positions should allow you to see all around the car with the movement of your eyes with minimal head movement.
  • Set your mirror positions to suit you before you drive off. 


  • Your seatbelt should always lie across the top of your shoulder and never rub against your neck or fall onto the top of your arm. 
  • Depending on your height, you may need to adjust the position at which the seat belt emerges from the body of the car. (If the adjustments available are insufficient, it is possible to purchase clips that help you adjust your seat belt height without impairing safety.)


  • Once you have adjusted your seat correctly, your feet should fall naturally onto the pedals. You should be able to press the pedals to the floor by mainly moving your ankle and only using your leg a little. 
  • Avoid wearing wear high heels, or very thick-soled shoes, as you will have to over-extend the ankle in order to put pressure on the pedals. As well as making it much harder to deal with an emergency stop, this position will raise your thigh from the seat (reducing support to your leg) and create tension (and possibly cramp) in the calf. This, in turn, will impair the blood flow on a long journey.


  • A relaxed driving position reduces stress on the spine, allowing your seat to take your weight.
  • Take regular breaks - stop and stretch your legs (and arms!) at least every two hours, more often if possible. You should certainly stop more frequently if you are feeling any discomfort.
  • Clench your cheeks - If you are stuck in traffic, exercise in your seat. Try buttock clenches, side bends, seat braces (pushing your hands into the steering wheel and your back into the seat – tensing and relaxing) as well as shoulder shrugs and circles.
  • Leave the tight clothes at home - They will restrict your movement.
  • It’s all in the timing - Allow plenty of time for journeys to avoid stress.

If I haven't answered all your questions feel free to ask on your next visit! 


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