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Neck and back pain whilst driving

There are many things to consider that could become problems when we undertake long car journeys; things such as tiredness and a lack of concentration that can be countered with frequent stops and rest. But one of the biggest problems that we can face at the wheel is something that has longer-reaching consequences for our health and wellbeing.

The sedentary nature inherent in driving and back pain.

The Sitting Time Bomb

Bryan McIlwraith, an Inverness-based osteopath and an expert on car ergonomics, says: "Ask an anthropologist and he will say that man is essentially a hunter-gatherer; we are designed to be up and about all day, trotting around looking for things to eat. Instead, modern man sits at a desk during the day, slouches in front of the TV at night, and in between may drive for several hours a day. When we use our backs in such an inappropriate way, is it any wonder that they fail?"

If you think about it, we usually sit about all day in the office - and then, when we get home, we collapse into an armchair or a sofa ready for an evening's entertainment in front of the telly or computer screen. According to recent statistics, the average British adult spends between 50% and 70% of their day sitting down, and it’s not doing any of us any good because physical inactivity has been identified by the World Health Organisation as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally.

Inactivity can lead to obesity and a slower metabolism, which itself can lead to cardiovascular issues, diabetes and a 60% increase in the risk of heart disease, as well as Rheumatic Disorders due to wear and tear to joints caused by a lack of activity and sitting badly.

And then there is the increased risk of back pain where we find the car at the heart of the problem, ahead of the desk job and sofa-led leisure time. According to GEM Motoring Assist, "in a recent study of business car drivers, at least half had suffered from lower back trouble in the last 12 months, and leisure drivers are similarly afflicted. It is essential as drivers that we note this and take care of our backs, in order to make ourselves safer, better focused and more comfortable behind the wheel."

And this is backed up by the Office for National Statistics (OCS) who have revealed that almost 31 million days of work were lost last year due to back, neck and muscle problems, despite the fact that more and more of the UK workforce is has swapped heavy manual labour for sitting in offices.

The Science of Car Sitting

Diagram of where back pain is affecting a driver whilst drivingObviously, when we are sitting down, there is more pressure on our lumbar discs compared to when we are standing, but did you know that it is increased by 50% when sat - and when you add in all the bumps and shocks from the road surface, your own movement when using pedals to brake, operate the clutch and accelerate, and the twisting and turning (however small) when looking around as we drive, that pressure is increased even more.

No wonder that, after a long journey, and even a short one, we struggle to walk as we get out of the car. Modern life has a lot to do with it, but then car seats aren't particularly designed ergonomically to allow us to NOT get some aches and pains.

That's not to say that there has been a lot of advancement in the design and manufacture of modern car seats when it comes to accommodating  the variety of body sizes and shapes that use them, but if you add in the need to compromise these changes with other requirements such as cost, space and other safety and driving paraphernalia in the cabin, it's no wonder that we are 'squeezed' into the driving positions that we often are.

As Dr Graham Cox, an author on the subject of driving positions explains: "Most seats are designed so that our knees are above the level of our hips, which is good for safety but poor ergonomically. When driving we need to extend our legs asymmetrically to move the pedals, turn the steering wheel, change gears and constantly be on the lookout for danger. Though we often start out well and with due consideration for back health when driving, it is not long before we are slouching or slipping down into the danger zones."

The simple rule to follow if you want to discover if your car seat has the potential to create some back pain problems is this: As soon as your bottom moves forward and a gap between the back of the seat and your own lower back appears, or between your shoulders and the top of the seat, then you will find that your spine is in the wrong physical shape creating excessive strain on certain areas. And then the various vibrations and bumps that you will encounter helps to dehydrate the spongy discs that sit between the vertebrae.

And the less fluid there is there, the less they work.

Basically, the best way to drive is sat back in your seat so that your back is in contact with the seat fully and supported from top to bottom.

The Rest of the Journey

As with all long journeys, taking a rest is an essential part of the drive too. It may be all well and good thinking that the sooner you can get somewhere the sooner you can rest, but according to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), "..the essential thing to keep in mind is just to keep your back moving throughout the day. If you are sitting, whether in a car or at a desk, get up and walk around for at least five minutes or so every hour." Back pain can become a dangerous distraction behind the wheel, leading to a lack of concentration that can not only ruin your life, but that of others too!

Choosing a Car for Comfort

A lot of cars out there, many of which are available for leasing from Nationwide Vehicle Contracts, promise a comfortable drive, and in researching this particular blog article we discovered the same cars coming up again and again as the best to avoid and assist with back pain. You'll find that Lexus and Mercedes cars generally have the best 'comfort reputation' so if you are a sufferer from back pain, and are looking for a new car to lease, contact one of our representatives to discuss your options 


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