Being trapped in traffic can be more than a pain in the behind: Back pain problems are a common side effect of long hours on the road.
Unlike the sensation you get while slumped over in an office chair, your body feels a lot of different forces in a car, from accelerations, side-to-side swaying, and vibrations, says Alan Hedge, Ph.D., C.P.E. professor of ergonomics at Cornell University.
This vibration of the spine pushes on the discs between your vertebrae—the cushions that act as shock absorbers and allow spinal movement—which can cause mechanical damage to the disks, Hedge says. “There is evidence that the combination of these factors, coupled with the design of the car seat itself, can increase the chance of back problems for some people.” (And roughly 80 percent of guys share those problems.
So how does your lumbar region stand a chance if both physical forces and your vehicle’s design team up against you? Work with what you do have control over: your car’s comfort features.
Adjust your chair’s back to 100 degrees and the seat bottom 5 degrees upward. While 130 degrees is the ideal position for your back, this slightly narrower positioning allows you to rest your neck against the padding and still see the road.
Most cars don’t have enough lumbar support, so it helps to roll up a sweatshirt and place it behind the small of your back. You neck, hips, and back work like cogwheels, so if you turn one part, the others will also move.
Since your feet are at work pressing the pedals, they aren’t being used to stabilize your lower body as they would if you were sitting in a chair. Keep your left foot firmly on the floor, and if you’re on cruise control, press both shoes into the ground so your thighs and shins form a 90 degree angle. If you’re driving for longer than 20 minutes, adjust your seat a few inches or so to change the forces a little bit and decrease the constant load on your spine. Trapped on the turnpike for an hour or more? Stop and stretch as often as you can.
Now that we’ve positioned you like a mannequin, be aware of the bad habits. Many men slouch or keep their seat too far back, forcing them to reach for the steering wheel, which is not ideal. Keeping your wallet in your back pocket can also cause an asymmetry of the hips, which misaligns your spine.
Source: www.menshealth.com; Ashley Balcerzak; February 22, 2015.