Why Your Driving Posture Matters

An achy back, stiff neck, sore shoulders: The everyday shakes, rattles and rolls of daily commuting can take a toll on your body.

The vehicles we drive are part of the problem. Some car seats don’t adequately accommodate the curve of the lower back, putting additional strain on the spine. And compact cars may lack legroom and head space, forcing some drivers to contort their bodies into unhealthy positions just to operate the vehicle.

But it’s not always the car’s fault, says Dr. Ginger Edgecombe Dorsey, Ph.D., Ergonomics Program Manager for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Sometimes the problem is simply how we sit. In her ongoing poll of USDA employees, she finds that poor driving posture can lead to an increased risk of discomfort in the neck, back, shoulders, arms, wrists, fingers, legs and feet. Over time, she says, bad posture could result in chronic pain, making you vulnerable to more injuries.

And sore limbs may be the least of it: One study found that poorly positioned drivers also have an increased risk of serious injury if they get into an accident.

Fortunately, you can alleviate many posture-related discomforts with proper adjustment of the driver’s seat and mirrors. Here’s what Dorsey recommends.

Correct spine posture for driver. Spine driver incorrect, right spine driver, position good spine driver. Vector illustration infographics1. Support Your Back

Slide your tailbone as close to the seat back as possible. Aim for a two- to three-finger gap between the back of your knees and the front of your seat. If your vehicle doesn’t allow for the proper position, a lumbar or back cushion may help.

2. Lift Your Hips

If you can, adjust your “seat pan” (the part you sit on) so that your thighs are supported along their entire length and your knees are slightly lower than your hips. This will increase circulation to your back while opening up your hips.

3. Don’t Sit Too Close

You should be able to comfortably reach the pedals and press them through their full range with your entire foot. Safety is also a consideration here; this study suggested that drivers whose chests were closer to the wheel were significantly more likely to suffer severe injuries to the head, neck and chest in front- and rear-end collisions.

4. Get The Right Height

Make sure your seat raises your eye level at least three inches above the steering wheel while allowing sufficient clearance between your head and the roof.

5. Lean Back (A Little)

The angle of your seat back should be a little greater than a perpendicular 90 degrees. At 100 to 110 degrees, the seat will put the least pressure on your back. Leaning too far back forces you to push your head and neck forward, which can cause neck and shoulder pain and tingling in the fingers.

6. Set Your Headrest

Set the top of the headrest between the top of your ears and the top of your head; it should just touch the back of your head when you’re sitting comfortably. The headrest is also important in reducing whiplash injuries in the event of a rear-end collision, says NHTSA—so important, in fact, that standards were developed for it.

7. Use Lumbar Support

If your car has adjustable lumbar support, set it (using both the front-back and up-down controls) so you feel an even pressure from your hips to your shoulders. If your car doesn’t have automatic support, a lumbar pillow or even a rolled-up towel can help.

8. Adjust Your Mirrors

Prevent neck strain by making sure your rear-view and side mirrors are properly adjusted; you should be able to see the traffic behind you without having to crane your neck.

9. Take Breaks

Even when you’re perfectly situated in the driver’s seat, fatigue will inevitably set in, especially when you’re driving for long periods. Listen to your body. And take periodic breaks: Park safely at a rest stop or other designated stopping area to get out of the car and stretch.

Managing your auto insurance policy shouldn’t be a pain in the neck. See why GEICO Mobile was ranked #1 by the Keynova Group’s Mobile Insurance Scorecard for 5 years running and download the app today.

Read more: Everything you need to know about distracted driving.

By Robert Edbrooke

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    Leave a comment

  1. Eric Young says,

    I found that after I moved my wallet from my back pocket to a front pocket I no longer had back pains. I later heard that truck drivers use this trick to stop back pains.

  2. Barthyana says,

    Thanks. Very informative, concise, well written and helpful. I could visualize those body placement and head rest instructions as I read them.

  3. Robert Wing, Jr. says,

    For some reason, car manufacturers seem to have designed the steering wheel so it is not comfortable for some of us taller people. If I put my seat back so I can reach the pedals comfortably, my arms are stretched out uncomfortably to reach the steering, even if I grip the wheel by the bottom. If I move the seat up so my arms are in a better position, then my legs are bent along with my ankle, which gets sore just trying to use the gas pedal. The steering wheel is also located so my view of the speedometer is blocked by the wheel. That seems to be the case in all vehicles I drive. However, the steering comfort is an issue in more recent cars. I can still drive my old pickup comfortably. My steering wheel is adjustable, but it needs to come out a good 3 inches further. I wrote this simply because I liked the article, but so much didn’t apply to me.

    • Philip Smith says,

      Wonderfully helpful comments, Robert.
      An even bigger issue than back pain is neck & shoulder pain – horrible problem for me until my physical therapist friend put me onto travelbuddyposture. Too bad that so many car seats create these problems for us. Robert, it’s crazy that your old pickup does a better job for your comfort than a new vehicle.

  4. Gisela says,

    Buenos y practicas recomendaciones.aunque manejo pocas millas he creado condiciones y hacerlo placentero.a pesar del tráfico en Miami

  5. Lola Zervos says,

    Thank you for the information on what is common sense that I should have known. This will help for long trips.

  6. Sheila Forman says,

    I have Geico ? car insurance and have encouraged my best friend to switch to Geico. I will continue to use Geico because it’s the best insurance.

  7. Dean D. Howard says,

    I have great rear view mirrors on the sides of the car but they block some of the left and right vision of the forward sides of the car. The side mirrors images can also be distracting when
    images from cars in the rear in these mirrors may appear to be coming from the side and require a second look.
    Thanks for all of your articles in this email.

  8. Dean Howard says,

    I have great rear view mirrors on the sides of the car but they block some of the left and right vision of the forward sides of the car. The side mirrors images can also be distracting when
    images from cars in the rear in these mirrors may appear to be coming from the side and require a second look.
    Thanks for all of your articles in this email.

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