For many of us, summer is a time for adventure, travel, and road trips, but unless you have Fred Flintstone’s car, you end up sitting passively in your car for many hours. Car seats have evolved strangely since the early twentieth century – the early Model T featured upright seating and ample leg room, but as time passed, cars moved lower to the ground and added bucket seats, which were created as both a space-safer and a way to keep passengers in place (as opposed to the bench seat).
Basically, the bucket seat makes it almost impossible to sit well on your sit bones in your car. The seat is sloped, with the front of the seat higher than the back, which typically forces riders into tucked tail (posterior pelvic tilt), rounded spine (spinal flexion), and head forward position, which can pose many bodily issues. In addition, drivers often create pelvic asymmetry by ignoring the left foot rest, and instead allow their left leg to do as it pleases, for better or worse.
So what came first, the poor posture or the poor seating? The problems we see in sitting posture have been occurring for half of the last century, and perhaps, chairs are being designed to cater to that issue. At some point, furniture designers decided that comfort meant slouching and lack of muscular engagement, and that design translated to easy chairs, sofas, and car interiors. Then, factor in that most of us are sitting 10-15 hours a day, most often in this rounded position…no wonder Sitting is the New Smoking!
Some of the consequences of poor sitting, both in the car and in daily life, include pelvic floor dysfunction, vertebral disc wear, neck pain, upper back pain, and posterior chain muscle weakness, to name a few. To align yourself better in your car and have good posture while driving, ask yourself this simple question: are you sitting on your sit bones (ischial tuberosities)? To get a better idea of this concept and determine the best ways to sit in a car, read Trina Altman’s article, Happy Tail vs. Sad Tail: Which Way Do You Tilt?
Come back Friday to explore some ways to tweak your car setup and give your body some post-driving love.
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Seriously hate the way my car seat is designed! I find I have greater stiffness when I conform to the seat vs. sitting tall and stacked, it totally stinks when driving long distances!
For sure sitting is the new smoking! I totally agree… I see it on a lot of people who visit my Pilates or Essentrics classes. Personally I always put my back support up straight so I can sit more upright in my car. In my previous car I bought special lordotic pillow which supported my low back. It helped but not as much as it should be: the seat was so old that I sat digged deep in it, I “sunk” almost in this seat…
I have noticed my right hip hikes up much easier in many of yoga poses. I almost always sit in my car seat sifting towards the right, so my right ischial tuberosity will be sitting slightly higher. The same with any kind of rounded bucket seat. One thing I did notice after several months of regular Yoga Tune Up and Therapy Ball class, I set the back of the car seat more upright instead of slightly in reclined position. This made such difference in how my back and neck feels after long hours of driving. Just recently spend 5 weeks… Read more »
I have lately been thinking about the lasting effects of the position of my car seat years ago. Even though I no longer spend lots of time in a car (NYC living has some benefits), I have noticed that my right knee experiences discomfort and sometimes pain from long sitting at my computer. I think this comes from years of driving and sitting too close to the steering wheel. My mom is shorter than I am and it never occurred to me when learning to drive that the seat should be further back; then I got used to it and… Read more »
What a great reminder that I needed – thank you Kayleigh! I do about 4 hours of driving on average a day and have started to use my therapy balls as lumbar support so I’m not always in that posterior tilt! I love the comment a user left about the “look in the rear view mirror” trick so sit up straight. Do you have any recommendations to combat this posture or do you recommend any specific YTU poses after a long day of driving to unwind the tissues (other than rolling)? It would be interesting to compare commuters who have… Read more »
Very interesting article. As a physiotherapist I often see people who have painful lower backs and getting in and out of cars are also a very tricky thing to do nowadays with cars being so low to the ground. One trick I tell clients to help with their posture while driving is to adjust their rear view mirror when they first get into the car and they are have adjusted the seat so they are sitting upright and straight, leaning against the seat for full support. Each time they come to a traffic light or stop sign, I ask them… Read more »
Oh, Yeah! I had the most uncomfortable seat in my last car, that I couldn’t adjust and actually got my new car around my ability to adjust the seat, so I could sit better in it, also, I exchanged the head rest(which pushed my head uncomfortably forward) for the one in the back seat, and now can sit upright with my head in alignment with my spine 🙂
Thanks for the article, my bucket seats are my nemesis. A rolfer once recommended I put a very thin soft squishy pillow lengthwise on the back of the seat, between my spine and the leather. This works to fill in the hollowed portion of the bucket seat, not just parts like a lumber support etc… The pillow has a lot of give, so your spinal curves and head indent into the pillow, which provides some support. At first it didn’t make sense or feel quite right, but I stuck with it and it completely changed the way my back felt… Read more »
I like this “Sitting is the new smoking” idea. About sitting on the sit bones… One day, someone taught me this little tric to teach kids how to sit properly. The lady said that she placed a “smiley” sticker on each of the sit bone of the kid she wanted to help. And a “Sad smiley” sticker on his sacrum. And she told the kid that all he has to do, is sit on the smileys to make his body feel good and have a good posture. Well, english is not my first langage so I hope you got the… Read more »
My hip asymmetry while driving is definitely something I’ve observed while driving, to the point of some serious hip joint pain and likely corresponding tightness in the QL. My old car had bucket seats, which were sold on that model as a ‘premium feature’. So funny that things considered ‘premium’ ultimately do more harm than good and reinforce the negative habit patterns that lead to pain in our muscles and joints as we age. I’m curious to ask a furniture designing friend if/what rationale she was taught for chair slopes!
Yes!! I have recently become aware that I often sit with my right hip much higher than my left, both as a driver and as a passenger … for no logical reason other than this is how I get into my seat, and don’t bother to readjust. Just accentuates the other misalignments that come from carrying a heavy briefcase around on one shoulder most of the time, as well. It would be nice if this extra posterior tilt would help my anterior-tilted self, but the lack of muscle engagement when sitting in the seat does nothing to help, either. When… Read more »
Yes!!! Seriously! I sit according to how my car seat is designed, and that’s slouched =( especially when I’m driving far distances or through traffic. I was at a Yoga Journal conference a couple of months ago, and came to a booth that was selling a little foam piece to place behind your spine. I didn’t get it, but I’m thinking about doing something that will help me get the flexed curve out of my lumbar spine. Another thing I noticed recently, only because I’ve been driving through L.A. traffic, is that my right shoulder muscles are in protraction and… Read more »
Thank you for this post. I recently drove a fairly long distance and despite my best effort to maintain aligned posture, I felt the seat was fighting me the whole way. I kept finding myself with a posteriorly tucked pelvis and felt compression all the way up my spine into my neck. I often would sit up to try and get my ischial tuberosities back but no matter what they would slide forward after awhile. I used the therapy balls to give myself a lift and allow for better forward tilt and later put them between my back and seat… Read more »
Great article Kaileigh! will definitly share it with a lot of my clients. A lot of my hips issues got resolve when i took attention to my foot on the pedal . I was contently in external rotation and pinching my sciatic nerve by over activating my piriformis and other “deep six” hip rotators. As i move my foot straight i suddenly felt the change in my pelvis and my spine. Now the long drive across Canada are pain free!
Hi Kayleigh, I’ve enjoyed following your blog on correct posture while sitting in a vehicle. On a recent plane flight I made the same observation. Unfortunately, plane seats have even less room than most vehicles and require a tremedous amount of flexion while seated. I too have been paying more attention to external rotation of the right foot while driving. However, I am less aware of what the left is doing. From my perspective, this really speaks to the problem with unconscious, repetitve movement. This requires slowing down and paying attention. Yoga Tune Up with its anatomical focus really helps… Read more »
This is so true. I find that the design of so many pieces of furniture, including the desk chairs that I sit in at school all day, are designed to make you slouch. The seat is bowled out and tilted so that you basically have to posteriorly tilt your pelvis and flex your spine. This gave me major problems that I am just now able to address through yoga tune up therapy ball sessions and practicing yoga tune up postures. I am thinking of getting a balance disc to put on my chair at school so that I can try… Read more »
Thanks for all the great comments/questions! I’ve been trying to keep my hips in neutral, both in tilt and in rotation while I drive. For many years, I externally rotated my right hip more than my left to manage the pedals, and lately, I’ve been much happier with a knee over ankle position with the foot pointed forward. I previously also just swiveled my ankle to get to the pedals, sometimes ending up with some crazy positions and right knee tweakiness. I wouldn’t advise car sitting to be static, especially if it’s a long drive, but establishing a good base… Read more »
I have many conversations to various people about posture and alignment in cars and chairs. When I was traveling through Europe one time I had a conversation with a guy who couldn’t understand why Americans sat so much. We get into our car, drive through the bank, drive to a fast food restaurant, sit in the parking lot and eat our meal, then drive to the next destination. In most parts of Europe, people have to get out of the car to do anything. A lot of people have to walk to the train, climb stairs to get on the… Read more »
Thanks you for starting a dialogue on this topic. I tend to think of desk sitting as the main cause of the poor posture (and the aches and pains that manifest from these habits) that I so often see in my yoga classes. I will now include sitting on the sofa after work and the car ride to and from when crafting my yoga classes. On a personal level, since Yoga Tune Up ® Balls rolled into my life, the better part of my time on the sofa has been swapped out for time on the balls. It is interesting… Read more »
Thank you for your post Kayleigh! I have noticed exactly the posture you’re describing in myself when driving. However, most of the time, this posture starts to wear on my back and so in order to mitigate for the discomfort, I intersperse this posture with periods of driving with an anterior pelvic tilt, spinal extension, shoulders retracted, and chin raised high… basically the opposite of the original pose. This is certainly not an ideal driving position, but I’m curious whether switching between the two reduces the stress on my body or increases it. If you have thoughts, I’d love to… Read more »
I love this! I often teach yoga at lunch breaks to office workers. We so often discuss the sitting issue, and one day we got talking about driving positions. I noticed that I often slide into the drivers seat from the left, but don’t always straighten out, leaving myself with more weight on my right hip, a compromised spine.. on and on..! Also worth thinking about, is what position the foot is in on the pedal (externally rotated at the ankle?) and is the leg in parallel or externally rotated as well?
Looking forward to Friday’s post!
Lu bar support needed! Now you have me wondering about how the seats could be designed so the driver can be influenced by posture to remain alert, while the passengers are given a more relaxed supported seat that still preser es alignment?
Looking forward to your Friday post. My hips alwats get very sore and achy when driving. Additionally, my hamstrings tighten and so do my shoulders. I think my hands on the steering wheel cause my traps and shoulders to scrunch and hold tension when i am on long summer driving trips.