On Wednesday, we looked at the changes in automobile and furniture design that have altered how we sit and can be contributing factors to neck and low back pain. Today, we will discuss how to position your car seat to improve your seated posture.
In changing your car seat setup, the first thing to look at is the driver’s seat. Is the angle of the bucket seat adjustable? How much lower is the back of the seat than the front? If you’re curious, have someone take a profile picture of you in the driver seat and see what’s really happening with your posture.
Then, look at your own posture. Is your spine rounding forward into flexion? Is your head forward of the rest of your torso? If you feel like you can’t easily sit on your sit bones, try folding up a towel to raise the back of the bucket seat.
From there, take a look at spinal alignment above the pelvis. Your spine should not be in complete contact with the backrest of the seat, otherwise you are most likely rounding in your spine. There should be natural space between your lumbar curve and the seat, which can be difficult to maintain while driving.
Also, try to adjust the reclining angle of the seat to support an upright spine and head centered over your pelvis rather than angled back. If your neck and cervical spine are making contact with the seat or rest, your head is most likely pushing forward or behind the torso. While there are already musculoskeletal issues resulting from your head forward position, the most precarious issue in a car is the risk of whiplash. Misaligned head rests and head forward position increase the distance that your head bounces back in case of collision, and a weak neck and poor daily head alignment increases your risk for injury. (read more about whiplash and collisions here)
Check out Jill Miller’s video below from America Now on better sitting posture on airplanes, which pose a similar problem to sitting in cars. While you may not be able to stretch while you drive, you can certainly stretch as a passenger!
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Placing a rolled up towel in your driver’s seat to support an anterior pelvic tilt to sit tall on your sits bones is helpful in the day to day! Just make sure it’s firm/big enough to withstand your weight and actually help tilt you the correct way! This can also be used in your lumbar spine or thoracic like Jill showed on the airline. Love that you brought attention to something we’re doing all the time!
I wish I had found this blog last week before I started commuting back and forth for the lv 1 YTU! I don’t usually drive very much anymore since I live where I teach and this week my low back was not happy with me from all the driving. Next time I hop in the car I will have the tools to take better care of myself. I’m planning a trip over seas for December. I will make sure to bring my YTU therapy balls and do what Jill suggests in the video too. Thank you so much!
I have a client who drives hundreds of miles each day and I often feel like we are not making any progress because of that. I will share this with him in his next session!
Thank you so much providing this invaluable information on how to adjust the car seat for proper alignment. I’ve been dealing with trying to adjust (and re-adjust) my driver seat in a new car due to some pain issues its been causing. I’m going to take your blog and a camera and finally get the car seat in the right place!
I like the suggestion about the sit bones and the spinal alignment above the pelvis. I have started using the therapy balls on my back and under my hamstrings in the car, but hadn’t really considered the proper alignment – only the pain management of what has already transpired in my body from so much time spent in the car. One other thing to look for – the position of the steering wheel – my husband happened to notice in my previous car that the steering wheel was not in alignment with the drivers seat, which was resulting in a slight curvature of my lower back. (And related pain.)
Great article. I work as a paramedic for 12-16 hour shifts with way too much sitting. I’m going to take my YTU balls to work with me to incorporate into my daily routines. I’ve tried adjusting positions and am always looking for other ideas to include more movement into my day.
Yep, got to keep moving, even in small places! I always roll up my jacket or shawl, so helpful for sitting up straight. I love getting creative with sitting and all the ways I can figure out to support better alignment.
Thanks for the great tips on pain-free travel. Tomorrow I will be equipping our cars with props to align our spine and pelvis to neutral when driving because I definitely feel the effects of the bucket seats after a long commute. Much appreciated!
Great post. I have often wondered about alignment while seated in a car. I live in a rural area and have to drive a lot! I try to improve my alignment, but your cues will be really helpful to improve it more. I never thought about having someone take a photo of me to see what is actually going on. Also, I was always afraid to recline my seat too much, thinking maybe it was designed to help in the case of a crash/whiplash. That was naive of me, wasn’t it?! Good to know I can improve my posture AND be better protected. Thank you.
I really enjoyed reading this blog, drawing awareness to posture in our daily commute. Getting a friend to take a photo of posture is a great idea & well worth trying, as a large quantity of us are challenged to keep our posture in good alignment while driving. I loved Jill’s suggestion of rolling clothing to bring the body back with natural curves of lumbar spine & portable YTU ball.
Great tips for travel. Thank you. I have started to always travel with the balls and something to tuck under my ischial tuberosities so I can keep a neutral pelvis and feel better when I deplane!
Achieving the best posture possible while driving is a worthwhile endeavour, but important to remember: your best posture is: THE ONE YOU’RE NOT IN. Even with the most perfect sitting posture, it is vital to take regular breaks on long drives, even if you just walk around a car park for two minutes, give the body some variety!!
Thank you for giving these great tips about riding in a car. I have this situation that just happened to me very recently. While I was driving the car for an extended period of time I started feeling this numbness within my legs. It was like the blood was not able to flow in my legs. I tried to overcome this by raise my hip and drop it down. Since I was in the car, I could not do anything else that is more mobile than this. What I ended up doing was that I got out of the car and really stretched out my self. I wonder if there is anything I can do inside the car to mitigate this numbness while I am driving?
Newer headrests make it really hard to get your head back! I hadn’t thought of lowering the front tilt. Love the real world application of this post.
Thank you for the tip about having a friend take a photo of your profile while seated. What feels “normal” and comfortable is often far from proper alignment. It is so difficult to maintain the natural curve of the lumbar spine in the bucket seats. I will definitely by trying a rolled up towel to see how I can correct the slumping effect of the bucket seats.
I drive sooooooo much being a yoga teacher – from studio, to client, to client, back to studio and eventually home. I spend most of my work day stuck in LA traffic in my cute mini cooper with horrible bucket seats. I’m in pain after long commutes and appreciate the advice on how to support my axial skeleton.
I found that most steering wheels can adjust also, and by moving mine down took some of the strain out of my shoulders holding my arms up in internal rotation. The DMV even changed their test from hands on the steering wheel from 10 & 2, to 8 o’clock and 4 o’clock positions which allows for external rotation of the arm (which is the most stabile position of the arm bone to be in the shoulder socket).
Thank you for this post! Driving is one of my least favorite activities because it leaves my body in such a bad state, Being 5’2, it is often difficult to find comfort in the car seat. I think that using props inthe car will help reduce some of the stress on my body from driving and perhaps allow me to find the mind space to enjoy the ride.
Great article! This is something we can all relate to… whether it’s driving, commuting on a train, or flying on a plane. When you think about it, none of these seats are setting us up for success and most of the time, the commute can be a lot longer than we want it to be. I will definitely be adjusting my car seat as well as being aware any time I’m on a train or airplane!
I really appreciated this article because it is so important to examine how we use and position our body in our daily routines. We often properly align ourselves when we exercise and may forget to do so throughout the day. This is a reminder to pay attention to our posture!
This is a wonderful description of how alignment can make for an easier commute long-term. Is it also possible to have some rotation in the Upper Trap to free up the neck muscles?
Having been involved in two MVA within 3 years of each other (resulted in whiplash), one Feldenkrais therapist reviewed my driver’s seat and added a lower lumbar support. that relieved much of the lower back pain. Have to admit that i tend to drive slouched, head cocked to the side at times. not even close to ‘decent’ alignment! i will roll up a towel and place it along my mid back and keep my head and upper body in better alignment. thank you for the reminder.
The slouching posture created by most furniture and car seats today is definitely the culprit of a lot of the pain that I experience. The tip of the rolled up towel to keep the pelvis stabilized and prevent it from posteriorly tilting is a great tip that I am going to try. It can be difficult to adjust a car seat to make it possible to stay upright. Being slouched and laid back definitely has its down sides. Few things make my body more miserable than sitting still in the same position for too long. Unfortunately this is what we are so often conditioned to in our society, but it is nice to know that there are things that we can do to help ourselves.
I have always disliked long road trips because of how uncomfortable I feel after sitting for any length of time in a car, and have always wondered why car seats are so uncomfortable! Thank you for this article helping me to think through how I can make adjustments in my own car to allow my spine to return to its natural curvature, as opposed to the alignment forced upon it by the tilt bucket seats impose upon the pelvis.
I definitely have a host of different props I use-sometimes I fold a blanket or use a rolled mat to elevate the back of the seat, sometimes, I just try to make the best of the situation, as when I’m in another person’s car. I don’t always put something behind my lumbar curve, especially if it’s hot outside, but I often do on planes or longer road trips. The neck restraint is trickier because you have to juggles possible ponytail and have enough mobility to turn your head , so I’m leaving that for now. Thanks for the feedback!
I appreciated this article because it relates to so much of what I do everyday- sitting. As a dancer and yogi I am constantly working on being aware of my alignment particularly of the spine and neck in order to execute movement properly and safely. But often times when I leave the studio that awareness goes right out the door with me and I’m onto the subway, hunched over and not focused on my posture. This article gave me some simple cues and ways to remind myself the importance to bring this alignment awareness with me in everyday life. I rely on my body for everything I do and I should take care of it always- even in something as simple as sitting on the subway or plane. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for this informative article. In Yoga Tune-Up we talk about actions in daily life that become integrated as result of an anatomically informed yoga practice. This is a wonderful example of this. Your article hightlights the need to practice spinal alignment in routine activities. Let’s hear it for tadasana spine in the car. I think your idea of having someone take a picture while sitting in our typcial fashion is a really good idea. Most of our posture is the result of habit that we are totally unaware of. Thanks for writing this article.
This applies to just walking around as well. Its really important to make sure the way your standing or sitting is neutral and that your axial skeleton is in its natural curved state. This applies to all yoga poses as well to make sure you aren’t “over-doing” it.
Thanks for your follow-up blog on car seats! During my commute this morning, I was acutely aware of my posture and found that it is more concerning than I had imagined. I began considering how I might use the yoga props that I have in the car. Why not? I am still in the process of teasing this out, but am working with having a yoga blanket folded underneath my ischial tuberosities to bring my pelvis into neutral, a rolled towel placed in my low back to support my lordotic curve and another smaller towel folded up and strapped to my head rest to keep support close to my head in the event of whiplash from a collision. My contraption isn’t pretty and not super convenient for short trips, but in my book, thats a fair trade for a healthier-happier body. I wonder if a car seat support product actually exists… perhaps not so ugly and inconvenient? If so, I’m buying it. If not, I might have just conceived my next business venture ;). Thanks for the information and inspiration!