Focus on Posture: Driving

by Dr. Christopher on October 25, 2010

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.

Courtesy of "i20.photobucket.com"

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonsky October 26, 2010 at 6:50 pm

I’m guilty of having bad posture most of the time, driving or not. I realize the importance of posture but I’m not always aware of how I’m standing, sitting, etc.

Have you heard of Opedix shirts? It’s a high tech shirt that helps with posture http://www.hiking-camping-world.com/hiking-camping-gear-blog/3062/a-shirt-that-increases-lung-capacity-improves-strength/

Please let me know what you think and if you write a post about it, I’ll link to it from my post.
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Christopher October 27, 2010 at 6:30 pm

You’re not alone Jonsky. That’s why it’s so important to have reminders, whether in human form or set up by yourself, like the rearview mirror trick or a sign written on your wall.

I have not heard of those shirts. I would like to try one of them on to really see what they feel like. I’m assuming that it is pulled tight in certain places and loose in others, thereby creating tension on the skin that pulls you into a better posture. Kinesiotape does similar work.

While kinesiotape will help athletes play through pain or take load off of muscles that aren’t functioning properly, it is a band-aid and not a long-term solution. Because the second you take the tape off (or the shirt), your posture will come back to normal.

And as we all know, pain is an alarm signal to our brains that something is damaged. Pain increases when we aren’t listening to that signal so that we will take load off of it. Turning the alarm off (similarly to disabling the fire alarm) in the face of pain can put heavy loads on damaged tissues, further damaging them until it takes much longer to heal. If you disable the fire alarm and there’s a fire, it may be too late.

Still, it may have a purpose, just not likely for long term health.

Patricia@lavenderuses October 31, 2010 at 10:30 am

Working as a nurse for many years I knew that if I sustained any sort of back injury I would be unemployabel! I was told that by the nursing tutor in my first week of nurse training and always remembered it throughout my nursing career. Good posture is so important and so is correct lifting tecniques. We didn’t have all the aid they now have but we learnt how to do things properly and when I left nursing my back was still okay.
Great information in this post Christopher. Thanks for sharing.
Patricia Perth Australia
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Christopher November 1, 2010 at 10:15 am

I’m happy to share Patricia. It’s interesting that you made that comment to me at this time. I’ve written about this before, but I started playing rugby again in August. This past Saturday, I finally had an injury that may affect my chiropractic career. My right thumbs is twice the size of my left one. I’ll take this injury, plus your well-timed comment about not being able to work with an injury, as signs that I should step away from the game for a little while. Thank YOU Patricia!

Christopher November 1, 2010 at 10:17 am

I also wanted to clarify. One of my veterinarian friends (Thank you Jenny!) informed me that the dog in the picture above is paralyzed below the waist. It isn’t as funny as I thought it was. It actually makes me want to cry.

totsie September 2, 2011 at 8:07 am

We didn’t have all the aid they now have but we learn how to do things properly and when I left nursing my back was still okay….
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Dr. Christopher September 2, 2011 at 8:35 am

Totsie … Learning how to do things and move properly is key to reducing and preventing LBP in the future.

Chane September 14, 2011 at 10:57 am

I would like to try one of them on to really see what they feel like. I’m assuming that it is pulled tight in certain places and loose in others, thereby creating tension on the skin that pulls you into a better posture. thanks for this.
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Dr. Christopher September 14, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Happy to help Chane!

divinila September 21, 2011 at 4:23 am

You just reminded us! Slouching is my habit, which I just recently know from you that is is not good. I just love reading post. I learn much from it.
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Dr. Christopher September 21, 2011 at 7:19 am

Happy you enjoyed it divinila!

archeops September 28, 2011 at 9:04 am

What a kind of dog is that?..It so talented..Can i have your dog?..THANKS! | 😛
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Megan September 30, 2011 at 4:04 am

i wonder what kind of dog is that look like a polar beer.but it’s cute though.
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Dr. Christopher September 30, 2011 at 9:22 am

Archeops … Not sure what kind of dog it is, but it’s not talented. It’s paralyzed. And it’s not my dog. Good talk though.

Megan … Not sure again. Yes, it’s cute. Unforunately, it’s likely in a lot of pain too.

naruto0506 October 6, 2011 at 10:36 pm

What a nice dog. he train very well. Thanks for sharing. GREAT! | 😛
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jellyace5 October 14, 2011 at 5:19 am

I didn’t have all the aid they now have but we learned how to do things properly and when I left nursing my back was still okay.
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Haidee October 16, 2011 at 11:41 am

I would like to try one of them on to really see what they feel like. I’m assuming that it is pulled tight in certain places and loose in others, thereby creating tension on the skin that pulls you into a better posture. Telekinesis does similar work.
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Harieth October 18, 2011 at 7:36 am

this is my problem 🙁 that’s why i got scoliosis, so the pain is giving me discomfort and pain. but by doing yoga, i tend to lessen the pain.
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reelsteel06 October 18, 2011 at 10:19 am

Which I just recently know from you that is is not good. I just love reading post. I learn much from it. | 😛
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Reginna2 October 20, 2011 at 3:35 am

Sounds great, thanks for all the details show here, i really appreciate this, thank you for publishing this.
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Dr. Christopher October 20, 2011 at 11:13 am

I’m glad that this was helpful Reginna, Harieth, and Haidee, jellyace, and reelsteel.

fab0506 October 24, 2011 at 2:48 pm

I was told that by the nursing tutor in my first week of nurse training and always remembered it throughout my nursing career. | 😛
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shaina October 25, 2011 at 3:50 pm

It’s nice to be here! there is a lot of knowing. Thanks for posting.
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darknight0506 November 8, 2011 at 8:32 pm

I would like to try one of them on to really see what they feel like. I’m assuming that it is pulled tight in certain places and loose in others. | 😛
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Kylee Brand April 19, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Hi Dr Chris!

Just wanted to add that people should examine their posture in a car before they buy when looking for a new car, especially if the will be driving for long periods. Someone I know had ongoing back problems for a couple of years and started seeing a chiropractor. After many treatments and questions they discovered her back problems started around the time that she got a new car. When the Chitopractor observed her sitting in the car they found that the way the seat and steering wheel were positioned meant that she was always slightly twisted. Got rid of her car and no more back problems!

Kylee

Dr. Christopher April 20, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Hi Kylee! Awesome story there. Provides truth to the fact that many people can be causing a lot of their own pain through their activities of daily living.

Ergonomics is also another factor to the multifactorial nature of health.

It’s never just from a chiropractor’s perspective, “this person needs to be adjusted” or from a physical therapist’s perspective “this person needs to be strengthened.” It’s often a little bit of many different tools.

Thank you for the comment Kylee!

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