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Essential Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Back While Driving

Getting your back in gear 
8 Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Back While Driving

The other day I was stuck in traffic, again, and two thoughts crept into my mind. Firstly, for all the roadworks I see, how can there be quite so many potholes still? However, secondly, and more importantly, do you ever stop to think just how much of our lives we spend sat in cars? Prolonged periods behind the wheel can take a toll on your back if you’re not careful. Poor posture, inadequate support, and prolonged sitting can contribute to back discomfort and even lead to long-term issues. To ensure a comfortable and pain-free driving experience, here are some essential tips for looking after your back while on the road: 


  1. Adjust Your Seat Properly: One of the fundamental aspects of back care while driving is setting up your seat in an ergonomic position. Start by adjusting the seat height so that you have a clear view of the road and easy access to the pedals without straining. Ensure that your seat is not too far from the pedals to avoid overstretching your legs, which can strain your lower back. 
  1. Maintain Proper Posture: Maintaining good posture while driving is crucial for preventing back pain. Sit upright with your back against the seat and your shoulders relaxed. Keep both hands on the steering wheel at the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock positions to distribute the workload evenly and minimise strain on your arms and shoulders. Prolonged leaning onto one arm or out a window might work wonders for casual driving image, but your body won’t be impressed, sorry! 
  1. Use Lumbar Support: Many modern cars come equipped with adjustable lumbar support to help maintain the natural curve of your spine and alleviate pressure on your lower back. If your car doesn’t have built-in lumbar support, consider using a lumbar roll or cushion to provide additional support and promote proper spinal positioning.
  1. Take Regular Breaks: Prolonged sitting, even with proper ergonomics, can still strain your back muscles over time. To combat stiffness and improve circulation, make it a habit to take regular breaks during long drives. Plan a quick stop every hour or two to stretch your legs, walk around, and perform simple back stretches to relieve tension.
  1. Adjust Your Steering Wheel and Mirrors: Ensure that your steering wheel and mirrors are properly adjusted to minimise the need for twisting and reaching while driving. Your steering wheel should be positioned in a way that allows you to maintain a relaxed posture with your arms slightly bent. Adjust your mirrors to provide optimal visibility without straining your neck or back.
  1. Stay Hydrated and Avoid Caffeine: Proper hydration is essential for maintaining the health of your spinal discs, which act as shock absorbers for your back. Drink plenty of water during your journey to keep your discs hydrated and flexible. Avoid excessive caffeine consumption, as it can contribute to dehydration and exacerbate back pain. I should add I am not telling you that coffee is off limits at the next service station, I’m not that brave, but to try and drink it in moderation. 
  1. Invest in Supportive Accessories: Consider investing in supportive accessories such as seat cushions, ergonomic seat covers, or backrests designed specifically for driving. These accessories can provide additional comfort and support, especially during long drives or if you have a history of back problems. They are easy to find and relatively cheap to get hold of. 
  1. Perform Regular Back Exercises: Strengthening and stretching exercises can help improve the flexibility and resilience of your back muscles, reducing the risk of discomfort and injury while driving. Incorporate exercises targeting your core, back, and hips into your daily routine to keep your back strong and supple.


And there you have it! Implementing good back health is important in all aspects of life, but maintaining a healthy spine will at least give you one less thing to worry about out on the roads. Furthermore, for those standstill moments such as at the traffic lights you can always take the opportunity to do other exercises such as neck stretches. Please do remember to put safety first and while driving keep your focus on the vehicle and the road. Safe Travels!  

Glen Wyatt

Glen comes from an emergency medicine background having spent 8 years working as part of an ambulance crew. He recently then graduated as a chiropractor from AECC College.

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Your easy shortcut to better health

Better health might seem hard to come by. With our sedentary lifestyles, poor health habits have an impact on our waistlines, brain, heart and posture. In a 2018 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers at Liverpool John Moores University in England claim sitting for too long reduces blood flow to the brain.  Sitting has been identified as so damaging to our health that experts now say “Sitting is the new smoking.”

Now, here’s the shortcut to better health that you’ve been waiting for!

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Solving the mystery of: Chronic shoulder tension

Chronic shoulder tension. Knots in your upper back. Stiffness, headaches, neck pain. Sounds familiar? Yep- we see chronic shoulder tension a lot in clinic- but allow us to explain why simply treating the shoulder isn’t going to solve the issue.

Firstly, muscles don’t work alone.

Our body moves and functions through a combination of movements in a coordinated group of muscles, ligaments, fascia, tendons and joints. Back pain is our bread-and-butter as chiropractors, and we know from both research and experience that pain in the back doesn’t necessarily mean a problem in the back. That pain could be caused by a problem somewhere completely different- something that often causes a bit of confusion when you come to see us for pain in one area and we end up treating somewhere completely different.

Chronic tension shoulder tension office work pain hurt headache back Emsworth chiropractic chiropractor osteopath osteopathy headache neck migraine muscle business Hampshire injury posture latissimus bodybuilding strength stamina stability exercise training health fitness sport

Here’s why…

Let us paint you a picture. You work in an office. You’re stuck at a desk all day, sitting on your behind, slouched and worn out by 5PM. Your shoulders are tight and sore, and you can feel the knots building up in your upper traps, giving you a thunderous headache by the end of the day. Now, you know those knots and tense muscles are going to cause problems of their own, so you had an upper back massage two days ago and they should be feeling better… but they’re not. So is the problem the upper traps and shoulders, or is it something else?

Chronic tension shoulder tension office work pain hurt headache back Emsworth chiropractic chiropractor osteopath osteopathy headache neck migraine muscle business Hampshire injury posture latissimus bodybuilding strength stamina stability exercise training health fitness sport
The latissimus dorsi muscle- isn’t it a beauty?!

Let’s look at the latissimus dorsi.

It’s a muscle that originates from the spinous processes of T7-L5, the iliac crest around the top of the pelvis, the thoracolumbar fascia in the middle of our back, the lower border of the shoulder blade and the lower 3/4 ribs. (Yep, it’s massive!) All those fibres attach to the humerus (the long bone in the top of your arm). Why are we talking about a muscle in the lower back? Surely a muscle in the lower back controls the lower back, right? Wrong. The lat dorsi actually serves to extend, adduct, flex and internally rotate the shoulder, and lends a mere helping fibre or two to extend and laterally flex the spine. (In case you’re interested- it also helps with our lung function and breathing. Safe to say, it’s a pretty important muscle.)

So, back to you sat at your desk.

You’re slouching, your lumbar spine is curved and unsupported, so your latissimus dorsi is stretched beyond the norm and the fibres can’t fire properly. As a result, the muscle can’t complete the role it’s supposed to, the upper trapezius steps in to help and is left to do all the hard work controlling the shoulder itself (Just like that last project your boss asked you and Jane to do together and Jane left it up to you to do all the hard work- thanks Jane….) This leads to imbalance and weakness in both the lats and lower traps not to mention a very grumpy upper trapezius. You’ve tried treating the site of the pain (with that amazing back, neck and shoulder massage) and it feels better for a day or two afterwards but then it comes back.

Chronic tension shoulder office work pain hurt shoulder tension headache back Emsworth chiropractic chiropractor osteopath osteopathy headache neck migraine muscle business Hampshire injury posture
The Posture Oblique Sling Source:

It’s fairly obvious by now that the problem with your tight and knotty upper traps isn’t caused by your shoulders- it’s something further afield.

So we have to look elsewhere- we look at your lower back and find that your latissimus dorsi is, surprise surprise, not happy with life. Now we’ve found that we also need to look at the Posterior Oblique Sling.* The POS includes the latissimus dorsi, glut med (in the back of the hip) and the thoracolumbar fascia (in the middle of our back.) *NB When we talk about one of the “slings” in the body, we’re talking about a specific group of muscles, fascia and ligaments which all work together to stabilise and mobilise the body.

Guess what we find when we examine you?

Your lat dorsi isn’t firing properly, which is throwing off the stability in the posterior oblique sling. Your lower back is stiff and restricted, and you can’t laterally flex properly- further compounding the problem with the latissimus dorsi (remember us saying it helps with lateral flexion of the lumbar spine?) So you can see how you’re caught in a vicious circle of dysfunction creating more dysfunction, and, in your case, leading to chronically tight shoulders that just never seem to get better!

The above is just an example of a classic case we often see in clinic.

Now, there are approximately 640 muscles in the human body, all intricately involved with the others in a chain of movement, that can have a chain of consequences if something in that chain misbehaves. To state the obvious again- each person we see is an individual, and the way dysfunction comes about is different for each person, as is the way in which the body adapts to that dysfunction.

As chiropractors, our job is to work out what’s going on and why (and then work with you to get it better) and this often involves looking at areas that might be quite far afield from where the actual pain is felt- but as you can see, there’s a reason for that.

Back pain children chiropractic Hampshire Emsworth babies shoulder tension

P.S. Poor posture affects kids too!

So where to begin? How can you improve your posture and reduce pain and problems? We’d suggest starting with some simple exercises, and downloading your copy of “Understanding Pain” which will help you get to grips with chronic pain, what’s going on in your body and how you can take back control!

Alternatively, and perhaps best- is to seek professional help and get a diagnosis and treatment plan put in place. You can get started by booking your appointment today.