Do You Suffer Back Pain?
A really nice older gentleman (let’s call him Roy) told me at a recent Spine Boot Camp class that he could finally sit and drive without back pain! He was pretty happy he used one of the tips (we call them spine sparing strategies) to be able to sit and drive without aggravating his back pain.
Does this sound like you?
“When I sit and drive my low back begins to ache. I constantly have to shift around to try and get comfortable. If I drive too far the pain starts to radiate into my buttock and down my leg.”
What is it about the driving posture that bugs your back? Most likely, the posture when you are sitting behind the wheel flexes your low back. Flexion means your back is bent forward at the waist relative to your hips. It is the same posture you get in if you slouch when sitting in a chair or on a soft couch.
That posture stretches out the ligaments, including the back part of the discs which causes pain and injury. If you have sciatica because of a bulging or herniated a disc, this posture can make it worse. The flexed posture combined with the compression force of sitting can compress and irritate your sciatic nerve. This can send the pain down your leg but it can also cause numbness and tingling (e.g. your foot falls asleep).
When you extend your leg to operate the gas and brake peddles, you stretch an already angry and inflamed sciatic nerve. No wonder that nerve starts sending hate mail upstairs to the control centre (Brain) to let it know how unhappy it is with the position you’ve put it in!
What did Roy learn that helped him so much?
Roy learned a Spine Sparing Strategy that showed him how to adjust his seat and driving position posture that off-loaded his back and sciatic nerve. Spine Sparing Strategies are a big part of what you learn in Spine Boot Camp. These are strategies you can use to be able to get back to your activities in ways that are safe for your back. Simple everyday activities like:
- rolling over in bed and
- putting on your socks and shoes
Sound useful? You bet. Most people that go through the SBC classes tell us they get more out of learning those practical strategies than they do the various myofascial release techniques, stretching or strengthening exercises.
When you sit and drive there are two main things you should pay attention to with respect to your sitting posture:
- Maintain the normal forward curve in your low back (lumbar lordosis). To test this you could start by simply rolling up a towel so it is approximately 2-3 inches in
diameter and place it in the small of your back (Just above your beltline). Some car seats have good lumbar support but others don’t. If yours won’t adjust properly you may need to purchase an additional lumbar roll or backrest. Use caution when buying these because some are too big. You can’t adjust your car seat enough so you may find yourself too close to the steering wheel or not enough headroom in the vehicle.
- Keep your hips higher than your knees. Even with proper lumbar support, if your knees are higher than your hips, your low back will round (flex). If your seat won’t adjust enough to get your hips higher than your knees then try sitting on a folded towel (approximately 2 inches thick). If this helps then you could look for a wedged foam seat you could sit on. These are typically available in Drug stores.
Back Pain while sitting is a clue
If your back pain gets worse when you are sitting then you may have what we call flexion-intolerant low back pain. This means that your back pain may get relief from an extension-based exercise program. We’ll cover what that is in an upcoming post. For now, I hope those two simple tips help you as much as they did Roy.
Want some more? Check out Daniela Gonzalez as she shares How to Improve Your Posture At Home?