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Achieve Total Comfort and Convenience on the Road with These 5 Easy Adjustments

Living in Montana generally means you have to drive for a bit to get, well, anywhere. From tracking down that secret fishing spot to heading to a job site or driving to a neighboring state, it's going to take some butt time. Humans are not designed to sit and drive for long periods of time. Add a poor driving posture and you put unnecessary strain on your back, neck, legs and shoulders that often leads to painful symptoms like headache, tingles in arms or toe, restless legs, sciatic pain, and whole list of other uncomfortable problems.

How you sit in a vehicle is a commonly overlooked risk factor for back and neck pain. Thankfully, a few adjustments to the way you sit in your car or truck when you drive can decrease the fatigue, discomfort, and painful pressure from those long drives.

Since every person is a little different, you will have a little different adjustment to make based on your own weight and height. We have broken the 5 easy adjustments down to help make sure you are sitting in a less stressful driving position and hopefully helping you to have more pleasant trips.

Adjust your car seat to decrease pain
Adjust your car seat to fit your body to decrease pain

1. Start With Your Seat Height & Distance

Can you see your dashboard, the front of the vehicle, and side mirrors? You should be able to see all of these without straining your neck and upper back, or jutting your chin forward. If your seat is too high or too low, your neck, upper back, and shoulders will take a beating and your legs and low back can feel pretty uncomfortable.

Step 1: Adjust your seat height until your eye level is at least three inches above the steering wheel while allowing plenty of space between your head and the roof. You should be able to see the road and your vehicle’s instrument panel clearly without having to tilt your head up or down.

Step 2: Move your seat forward, backward, up or down. Your seat should support the length of your thighs leaving a two-three finger-inch gap between the backs of your knees and the edge of your seat. This will ensure your lower legs maintain good circulation and no pressure points irritate your knees. If your legs are too short to allow for the two-three finger-inch gap, a lumbar support cushion, or a rolled up towel placed in the small of your back, can help push you forward in your seat while providing stability for your low back. If using a lumbar support, the lowest edge of the support should be level with your belt line or the top of your pelvis.

Step 3: When you have proper seat height and distance, you will not need to slump over the front of your steering wheel, reach up to meet your steering wheel, or feel like you need to pull yourself toward the wheel. If you still cannot attain the perfect height, you can always include a cushion to boost yourself higher in your seat. Just make sure the cushion is firm enough to keep your pelvis level like this one.

Tip #1: If you are a little short, you can add a cushion and/or lower the steering wheel to make it easier to drive without stressing your body.

2. Steering Wheel Distance

When driving, make sure the distance of your arms to the steering wheel is right too. When your arms are stressed just holding onto the wheel tension will extend into your neck, tightening muscles and raising your shoulders into your ears. Overtime, this will drive, pun intended, a dysfunctional movement pattern and cause pain, headaches, nerve pain and could even contribute to disc injuries.

Step 1: Position yourself properly by sitting with your back fully against the seat back.

Step 2: Then hold the steering wheel properly by reaching forward and lightly griping the steering wheel at the nine and three o’clock or eight and three o'clock position (these two position are better than the 10 & 2 for providing better leverage and comfort). Keep a light grip on the wheel to avoid fatigue and tension of the hands, arms, and upper back. Also, try to use both hands since steering with one hand will make one shoulder work harder and can create a sustained rotation of your spine, again driving a dysfunctional movement pattern.

Step 3: Ensure that your arms are in the right position by having your arms only slightly bent while holding the wheel and your back is against the back of the chair. If your arms are fully extended, locked, or create less than a 60 degree angle, you are sitting too far from the steering wheel. Adjust the driver’s seat forward or the steering wheel back until you have a slight bend in your arm and can still engage the wheel. This will allow you to relax your upper back avoiding unnecessary muscle tension and irritation along your entire spine. If headaches are common for you, this just might be a big helper!

Tip #2 Did you know that a certain distance is necessary for a steering wheel airbag to deploy correctly? Aim for a distance of 10 to 12 inches between you and the steering wheel. (1)

3. Tilt your seatback

Adjust your backrest to about a 110-degree tilt to put the least amount of pressure on your back and allow a better neck and low back alignment. Leaning far back in the driver’s seat might feel comfortable in the moment, but it causes you to jut your head and neck forward, which strains your neck and shoulders and in compensation you will need to tuck your hips causing irritation to the muscles and disc of the lumbar spine.

If you are very tall, it is better to push the whole seat back than tilt the back of the chair more. You can also achieve some help by raising the seat up a little more. These steps apply to both driver's and passenger seats.

Step 1: Position the seat fully upright and sit in it. This position may not be comfortable yet, but this is where the seat tilt adjustment need to start.

Step 2: Recline the seat slowly until the pressure eases from your lower back and your head is only 1-2 inches behind your headrest (see step #4). With your head against the headrest and your eyes open, you should have a clear field of vision of the road and able to look around with relative ease.

Step 3: If you are having difficulty seeing through the windshield with your head against the headrest, adjust your seat tilt further upright or recheck the height adjustment.

If you are sitting upright with proper support behind your back and head, your body will not fatigue as quickly or experience as much irritation when you are driving.

Tip #3 one study found that drivers with poor driving posture are at an increased risk of serious injury if they get into a car accident. (2)

Position your headrest for safety
Make sure your headrest is properly position for safety

4. That Headrest

Okay, so this one is tough. Some headrests just do not adjust for all heights of people and some have a forward 'push' that can be uncomfortable. But headrests are designed to decrease the severity of whiplash when there is an impact from the back. For proper safety positioning

Step 1: Check the distance from your head to your headrest by siting in your driver’s seat with your back against the chair, then with your hand estimate the distance between the back of your head and the front of the headrest. The headrest should be about one inch from the back of your head. More than that could create neck tension and if you were in a collision, you could experience more damage from whiplash.

Step 2: If possible, adjust the headrest tilt by grasping the headrest and pulling it forward or backward. Not all headrests have the option to adjust tilt, but if it does, again make sure the space is only about an inch from your head while sitting with your back against the chair.

Step 3: Adjust the headrest vertically by sitting with your back against the seat again, check, or have your friend check, the headrest height. The top of the headrest should be no lower than your eye level. This ensures that your head will actually be protected should you experience rear-end collision.

Tip #4 Headrests are designed to make sure that your body and head move forward at the same speed in the event of an impact from the rear. If you cannot make the existing one comfortable, there might be other headrest options for your vehicle make that allows for more adjustments to keep you both comfortable and safe.

5. The 5 easy adjustments ends with: Movement is Medicine

Ok, so this is not about adjusting your seat but it might be about adjusting your habit and thinking. The human body developed years upon years ago to be more upright and moving around than seated. We needed to walk to get water, move around to forage and hunt, and mobilize our bodies to go see neighbors or travel for any reason. Fast forward to today and we are asking our bodies to sit for hours on end in a vehicle. Can you do it? Yes, many of us can. But at what cost?

Step 1: Find a rest stop or even just pull to the side of the road and get out.

Step 2: Walk around the vehicle 2-3 times, swing your arms a bit, shrug your shoulders, and take a breath into your belly.

Step 3: Get back into the vehicle and enjoy the ride comfortably.

Step 4: Repeat about every hour to hour and half of a long drive.

Bonus tips:

What can you do if you experience some discomfort while driving?

  • Use Your Heated Seats: Using the heated seats in your car can help decrease the discomfort of sitting during a long road trip. Let the back heater warm and keep it going for around 5-6 mins and then turn it off allowing time for your tissue to relax and cool for 10-20 mins. Repeat as needed.

  • Get Out Of Your Car Every Hour: Try to take frequent breaks. It’s ideal to get out of your car every hour to get your blood flowing and give your back a break. Walking and wiggling around your body will help.

  • Switch Drivers: If there is more than one driver in the car, try switching who is driving every few hours to give each person a break from the static position of driving.

  • Take Advantage of Cruise Control: When on a long trip, if can use cruise control, try using it to give your feet a break. This will decrease how often you need to press down on the brakes or gas, and how long you have to hold your foot in a constant position.

  • Consider Your Mirror Position: Make sure that you can see out of your mirrors from your seated position. If your mirrors are difficult to use, you will continually crane your neck to see what is going on behind or next to you. Not only could that cause some discomfort over a long drive, it might be dangerous too.

  • Use A Topical: You may want to use a natural pain relieving topical on the area that hurts. Topicals like Golden Tiger are safe to use and can allow for some short term relief until you can schedule an appointment to work on solving the bigger problem with Dr Dobelbower (or your local Doctor of Chiropractic).

  • Follow Specific Advice: If you are actively working on the bigger problem and need to travel, be sure to follow Dr Dobelbower's advice. Some health problems require particular solutions that need you to perform away from the clinic and time to correct.

Driving several hours multiple times per week can take a toll on your body. If you still feel pain or stress in your back, neck, shoulders, and hips while driving after making sure your chair position is appropriate to your unique body, it may time to get the help of a Doctor of Chiropractic.

Chiropractic care along with rehab can help alleviate the repetitive stress injuries from driving by correcting any misalignments caused by years of improper posture from being behind the wheel. At Park County Chiropractic, we really do love helping people make their everyday lives better.

{Note: This content is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your healthcare provider or seek other professional medical treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that have read on this blog or in any linked materials.}

**This may seem obvious, but please only make seat adjustments while you are not driving.




Kathi loves helping people learn how to live life on a higher level of health using safer, natural solutions and care. Being short, she has learned that adjusting her truck seat makes driving much more of a comfortable experience!

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