People don’t realize.
It’s not only the exercise, but also the postures and movements we do twenty-four hours a day that determine the health and fitness of our musculoskeletal system.
Even when we sleep, we are unconsciously putting load (or stress) on certain structures that can lead to injury if we don’t let our tissues recover. That’s why many people note low back pain or neck pain from sleeping on their stomachs.
Thinking about movement health often, I like to ponder what type of effects our everyday life habits have on our bodies.Here is the first of many activities of daily living that I will examine under the context of the effects its having on the body.
The Evolution of Driving
As hunters and gatherers, we spent the majority of our existence hunting, gathering, playing, cleaning, walking, running, etc. We moved on a consistent basis throughout everyday. What we did not do was to hold the same posture for hours of everyday like we do now.
Then, we could run down an animal to kill using persistence hunting. Now, we merely have to drive to a gigantic store filled with artificial foods made in laboratories.
It’s nice to be able to travel farther distances than we would have on foot. But is the sitting worth the price?
The act of sitting is detrimental to our postures.
Just look at this guy to the left. He looks “tired,” like he needs a nap.
Keeping still in a static posture often seems to drain your energy so that activity is more difficult to initiate.
And I feel bad for children in schools today. Their teachers keep them in their seats for way too long; in grade schools, sometimes they are kept there for hours at a time. When the students’ bodies start to fidget, craving movement, their teachers punish them and diagnose them with ADHD.
The same fidgeting occurs with adults. Moving when stuck in your seat is a load management strategy. Your body is trying to take stress off of irritated tissue. If irritated for too long, your back becomes a disc issue waiting to happen.
So get up and move when you can. Driving exposes a different problem.
Movement Focus: Driving
When patients have had irritated disc issues and needed to travel for long car rides, I’ve had them pull over and get out take load off the lumbar spine. Unfortunately, you still need to get where you’re going. What to do?
- Do you have ADHD or an irritated low back? In a car, you’re stuck not being able to physically stand. Your body fidgets because it craves movement and is trying to take stress off an irritated body part. Let it.
- Do you slouch? Before you get on the road, sit with good posture. Let your entire low back come into contact with the seat, hopefully with its natural curve still intact and not completely rounded. Sit tall with your chest out, wing bones pulled “back and down.” Your chin should be retracted (Watch video here @ 0:20 seconds). You should be close enough to the steering wheel so that you aren’t reaching all the way forward, but have your elbows comfortably near you side. Finally, set your rearview mirror with this perfect posture. When you start slouching, don’t reset your mirror. Use the mirror as a reminder to fix your posture!
- Are you stressed? I treated a woman with carpal tunnel syndrome who provoked her symptoms by holding on the wheel with an iron fist. Take a deep breath … and relax. Now let go of the wheel. Loosely grab the steering wheel with your finger tips. It’s not going anywhere.
- Are your toes facing straight up or are they turned out to the side? When I drive, I commonly leave the toes on the left foot straight up, but the toes on the right are turned out as we push the pedals with our right feet. I also have sciatic nerve entrapment at the location of the muscles that are being held in a shortened position when I drive. Not that it’s definitely a cause, but an interesting correlation. Just saying. Driving with the toes of both feet pointing straight up could theoretically help by leaving the muscles in a more neutral posture, restoring blood flow.
- Can you turn your head to look into your blind spot? I met a man who put tiny circular mirrors on top of his sideview mirrors so that he didn’t have to turn his head to look at his blind spots. Why? Because he couldn’t turn his head. Then, he continued to lose mobility in his neck as he didn’t even try gaining that range of motion back. Moral of the story: Turn your head. Or get someone like a chiropractor or other manual therapist to do it for you. It’s important.
- Road rage? Horrible for health! It’s an extreme version of the stressed out person who almost broke the steering wheel. Not only is the sympathetic nervous system activity one of the primary causes of nearly all chronic disease, but the anger is not getting you anywhere. Next time you want to give someone the finger, give the thumbs up instead! And smile!
Do Your Best
Unless you live in Europe or in another country where they still live as our hunter/gatherer ancestors did, it’s inevitable that you’re going to have to sit and drive. The big idea here is that paying attention to your postures and movements that you do everyday, as well as taking control of your health by working on your flexibility, strength, and endurance, you can prevent alot of the injuries and degeneration that comes with our sedentary lifestyles.
Pay attention to your posture the next time you’re driving. What do you observe?