Vehicle Ergonomics


Vehicle Ergonomics

Vehicle ergonomics can play a significant role in preventing and/or improving neck and back pain related to driving.  When we drive, all the fundamentals of ergonomics come into play:  posture, force, and repetition.  Just simply putting your hands on the steering wheel increases tension in the shoulders.  The most significant contributors to increased neck pain while driving is insufficient head room and inadequate positioning.  Maintaining good, balanced driving posture can reduce the amount of strain in the neck, shoulders and the lower back.  Here are some tips on how to reduce strain in your back and neck with driving:

Good, Balanced Driving Posture

  • Hips all the way back in the seat
  • Hips slightly higher than knees, if possible. Use a stress wedge if needed.
  • Midback supported by the backrest
  • Arms held in a neutral position and hands on the steering wheel at approximately 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions.
  • Feet can reach the gas and break pedals without reaching from the hips.

Vehicle Tips For Your Back:

  • A vehicle that sits high off the curb, an SUV, truck or van is better than a sports car
  • Enter a car by sitting down first, and then swing the legs in rather than climbing foot first into the vehicle.  Reverse this process when getting out, swinging both legs out first.
  • Automatic transmissions are less straining than manual
  • Adjust the lumbar support so it adequately supports the inward curve of your low back.  Or, you can add one using a small pillow, lumbar roll, or rolled up towel.
  • Use a foam wedge to elevate your pelvis and add extra support if your seat has lost some rigidity
  • The seat should be adjustable in tilt and height independently of each other, creating a space of 2-3 finger widths from the back of the knee to the seat

Vehicle Tips For Your Neck and Shoulders:

  • Avoid leaning forward as you sit in the seat, keep your shoulders back
  • Position the car seat so your arms are not fully extended
  • The back rest should come to shoulder height and not obstruct your rear vision
  • Choose an adjustable steering wheel, one that moves in/out and up/down, and tilt
  • Ensure you have proper head room and leg room
  • Look for a car with power steering

Dehydration and Back Pain

We’ve all heard it before, drink more water!  But many people are unaware of the importance of fluid intake as it relates to back pain and the overall role hydration plays in keeping our body healthy. Approximately 50-60% of our body weight is water weight. Our bodies need water to help with digestion and eliminate waste.

Water also helps to fill our cells with fluid which in turn cushions and lubricates our joints. The intervertebral discs of the spine are composed primarily of water, when we stand all day it results in compression of the disc and results in loss of water from the disc. When we lie down at night to sleep our body needs to re-hydrate our discs, which is where proper hydration comes into play!

Insufficient water intake can lead to muscle spasm and renal dysfunction.  By the time our brain registers that we are thirsty our bodies are already in a dehydrated state. Furthermore, as we age our thirst mechanism decreases so individuals may not ever register thirst. Also, many of the other drinks we consume i.e. coffee, tea, and pop all contribute to dehydration.

A simple equation to determine fluid needs – for every pound of body weight you need about a half an ounce of fluid intake per day. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds x 0.5 = 70 ounces; 70 ounces divided by 8 = 9 cups of fluid per day.

Exercise and Weight Loss

Many people spend countless hours searching for a quick and easy weight loss plan. Whether your goal is to lose a few pounds or 50 lbs, adding regular exercise to your daily routine is the best way to lose weight and keep it off.

Eating a healthy diet is important for everyone. Decreasing your caloric intake may initially cause you to lose weight, but over time as you consume less calories, your metabolism decreases to conserve energy. Basically, if your body expects only a certain number of calories, it doesn’t want to use them too quickly. Therefore, oftentimes diet alone causes weight loss to plateau.

Diet plus exercise is a healthy and efficient way to lose weight. This combination has proven to be more effective than dieting or exercise alone. Cardiovascular (CV) exercise is the best way to burn calories and lose weight.  The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of CV exercise per week (such as 30 minutes, 5 times per week). Strive to increase your intensity level to what you perceive as a “somewhat strong to strong” effort for at least 20 minutes.  This means you should break a sweat while breathing harder; you should be able to talk, but you don’t necessarily want to.  Examples of CV exercise include a brisk walk or bicycling (indoor or outdoors), swimming laps, using an elliptical machine and cross country skiing, to name a few.  If walking on a TM, be sure to increase the incline to at least 3%.  This will effectively increase your heart rate to the recommended intensity level.  Walking outside can also improve memory, fight depression, and lower blood pressure.  Adding strength training into your routine may also speed up weight loss.

Exercise is not only an effective calorie burner, it also decreases body fat and can maintain/increase lean body mass. Lean body mass is metabolically more active than body fat, maintaining a higher level of resting metabolism, thus burning calories at a higher rate without a plateau.

So, choose whatever form of CV exercise that you find most enjoyable, and most importantly, have fun!