by Casey Chan, DC, QME
A person can spend many stressful hours driving their vehicle. It is very important that a car is chosen and set up for ideal ergonomics to avoid injury and chronic stress and strain.
The first step in setting up proper ergonomics in the car is by starting with the seat.
Lumbar Support: Use the built in lumbar support or add a cushioned lumbar support to your seat. The lumbar support should be situated at the small of your back, above the “dimples” of your lower back. It is used to support the ideal C shape of your lumbar spine. When the lower back is in its ideal C shape, the upper spine is better aligned as well.
Hard types of lumbar supports, such as those made of plastic, or massage devices are not recommended because they may cause injury in case of an auto accident. Supports that allow vertical adjustment are recommended so they can be used properly.
Recline: Adjust the recline of the seat to be 100 to 110 degrees tilted backward. Your back and “bum” should be seated as far back into your seat as possible.
Headrest: The headrest should be at a height where the middle of the headrest is in direct contact with the middle, back portion of your head. The headrest is used to rest your head while driving and also to protect your head and neck in case of an accident. The headrest should be angled such that it allows your head to be positioned above your shoulders. If the headrest pushes your head forward so that your head hangs forward over your body and shoulders (“like a turtle”), it isn’t positioned correctly.
Horizontal: Adjust your seat forward and backward so that when you are seated all the way back in your chair, you can reach the gas pedal and brake pedal easily and safely. You should not have to slouch or twist your body or feel the need to reach to press the pedals.
Vertical: Adjust the height of the seat as high as you can while satisfying the following requirements:
1. You can reach the pedals easily and safely.
2. You have enough headroom so that your head will not hit the windshield, sunshade or roof easily when flexing your upper body forward.
3. You can hold onto the steering wheel and gear shift comfortably.
Distance: When holding onto the steering wheel at the ideal 10 and 2 o’clock or 9 and 3 o’clock positions, your shoulders should rest down, not shrugging. Your upper body should not be leaning forward – it should be resting in your seat with your head on the headrest. If you are unable to do this, use the telescoping function of the steering wheel to bring the wheel closer to you. Most vehicles produced these days have this capability.
Height: Adjust the steering wheel height by using the tilt feature (if available) of the steering wheel to bring the wheel as low as possible without inhibiting the movement of your legs/knees and arms. By lowering the wheel, the shoulders do not have to do as much work to hold your arms up.
Slouching, leaning, jutting your head forward, and holding a phone in your hand for a prolonged period of time are bad habits (and/or illegal) while driving. They place extra stress on the body, often leading to fatigue and overuse injury. Instead, practice the recommendations mentioned above and use a hands-free device when talking on the phone.
Limiting the amount of driving you have to do is also very important. Sitting places the greatest amount of stress on the spine compared to other postures. Carpooling, switching driving duties, and simply driving less are good solutions.