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While many people associate back pain with office work, it’s crucial to recognize the risks associated with prolonged car use. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (n.d), sitting in a car is not the same thing as sitting in a chair. While both involve sitting, driving demands different postures than desk work. Your arms reach higher for the wheel, your legs extend further for the pedals, and your body adapts to vibrations and forces from road conditions.

Understanding the Risks

Long hours spent driving, combined with poorly adjusted seating and exposure to road vibrations, can contribute to musculoskeletal disorders, particularly lower back pain. Occupational driving is associated with musculoskeletal disorders, particularly lower back pain, due to long hours, professional experience, vehicle ergonomics, and vibration. (Pickard et al., 2022)

Taking Action

Fortunately, you can take proactive steps to minimize back pain while driving:

  1. Embrace Your Car Manual: The first step is to become familiar with your vehicle’s adjustable features. Consult the manual to understand how to adjust the seat height, cushion length, and steering wheel position.
  2. Optimize Your Seat:
    • Seat height: Adjust the seat for clear visibility through the windshield and windows.
    • Cushion length: Ensure your knees bend slightly with your feet flat on the floor, maintaining a 90-degree angle at the knees.
    • Seat position: Move the seat forward or backward to allow comfortable pedal control with full foot contact.
  3. Fine-Tuning for Comfort and Safety:
    • Cushion angle and backrest: Find an angle that supports your lower back comfortably without slouching.
    • Lumbar support: Utilize the built-in lumbar support or add an external cushion for additional support.
    • Steering wheel: Adjust the tilt and telescopic features for comfortable arm reach while maintaining proper posture.
    • Head restraint: Position the head restraint to align with the mid-back of your head for optimal support.

Implementing proper seat adjustments can help to significantly reduce your risk of back pain while driving.

References:

  • Government of Canada, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). (2024, February 10). CCOHS: Driving and Ergonomics. https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/ergonomics
  • Pickard, O., Burton, P., Yamada, H., Schram, B., Canetti, E. F. D., & Orr, R. (2022). Musculoskeletal Disorders Associated with Occupational Driving: A Systematic Review Spanning 2006–2021. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(11), 6837. [DOI: 10.3390/ijerph19116837]

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