Most car seats are designed with the drivers and passengers safety paramount in the event of an accident.  Unfortunately this means that the general driving position is not designed for optimum posture and therefore many people experience aggravation of symptoms, especially spinal problems when driving any distance.  Modern traffic conditions can make driving for many people a stressful and unpleasant experience, adding to any previously increased muscle tone.

Is the car right for you?

Sometimes, the design of the car itself can lead to back problems. If you have to drive particularly long distances, look at the tests below. If the car can pass the four simple tests there is a good chance that it is suitable for that particular driver.

The praying test – The driver places both hands together, pointing forwards. If the steering wheel is not offset then the driver should be pointing straight at the centre of the wheel. The danger of having an offset wheel is that most drivers tend to rotate the middle of their spine to compensate for its position, producing long term back strain.

The fist test – With the seat in the normal driving position make a fist with the left hand keeping the thumb to side of the index finger. It should be possible to insert the fist on the crown of the head. If it is only just possible to insert the flat hand between the roof and the head then there is insufficient headroom. The danger of having too little headroom is that the driver may compensate for the lack of height by slouching in the seat, which puts a strain on the spine and thighs.

The look down test – With both hands places evenly on the steering wheel, look down at the legs. It should be possible to see equal amounts of both legs between the arms. Frequently the left leg will be visible, but the right leg will be obscured by the right arm which may indicate that the shoulder girdle is rotated to the left in the relation to the pelvis.

The right leg test – This test should be performed after driving the car for a short while. Once again, look down and examine the position of the right leg. Is it elevated above the level of the left or has it fallen out towards the edge of the seat? Is the right foot roughly in line with the thigh as it should be, or has it had to come across towards the centre of the car?

When Driving

Car seats can be adjusted to suit your posture but makes sure you always;

Keep your seat reasonably upright, leaning backwards only at a slight angle.

Keep the headrest adjusted so that the centre of the headrest is level with the centre of your eyes. Don’t set the headrest too low as this can allow more serious injury in an accident.

When getting in, sit first then swing your legs into the car. When you get out, move the seat back before swinging your legs out.

Do you ‘ride the clutch’, resting your foot in the air? No wonder your ankles and calf muscles hurt.

To relax, raise your shoulders to your ears breathing in, and then lower them as you breathe out. You may want to do this at every red traffic light, or major junction.

Avoid reaching behind the get bags from the rear seat. Don’t be lazy. Get out and open the door.

Be careful when loading and unloading. Lift correctly.

Avoid lifting unnecessary weights. Get help to change a tyre.

Sit with arms gently bent below the elbow to the wheel and don’t lean forward out of the seat.

Where a seat belt and make sure it is properly adjusted. Make sure children also have appropriate seat belts and cushions.

Keep Moving

It’s not just the driver who can stiffen up in a car. Passengers are often seated for long periods of time in a fixed position. Movement is the key for car, driver, and passenger. As a passenger, try to alter your position from time to time and sit with your knees bent and thighs level and comfortable. Avoid sitting with your legs crossed; move them regularly. For drivers and passengers, stop regularly, ideally once an hour, especially when feeling tired. Get out of the car and stretch your arms and legs and perhaps walk around a few times.

Back Pain Sufferers

– Choose a car with an adjustable lumbar support (and use it). Alternatively, keep a flat cushion in the car for use of your back – Choose a car with a higher kerb height to make getting out of the car less stressful on the spine. – Depressing on the clutch increases the pressure on your back, so choose an automatic to avoid this. – Power steering also significantly reduces the load on the spine.


  • Prevention is better than cure.
  • Sit properly, drive relaxed.
  • Osteopaths can advise on posture.
  • Osteopaths treat neck and back pain, and a great many other things as well.
  • If you are unlucky enough too involved in a road accident, osteopathy can help relieve the pain of injury, especially whiplash-type injuries.
  • Osteopaths are often asked by solicitors to write medico-legal reports on accident victims, to help claim compensation.