A Liverpool Hope University academic has been sharing hints and tips when it comes to adopting the right posture when you're behind the wheel of a car.
So-called ‘Freedom Day’ has seen the vast majority of Covid-19 restrictions lifted, while the end of ’work from home’ advice could see lots of people begin the transition back to offices.
And if you use a car for your daily commute, it could also mean hours spent in your vehicle as you battle through rush hour through traffic.
Victoria Joyce, a Clinical Tutor in Sport Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation at Hope, is urging caution.
She says poor posture behind the wheel can potentially result in musculoskeletal problems - chief of which is dreaded lower back pain, or ‘LBP’.
Victoria, a strength and rehabilitation coach and also former track and field athlete, says motorists should try to identify, and rectify, any niggles they get from driving before they go on to become a ‘chronic’ injury.
She explains: “Commuting to work, or long journeys in general, can be really unhelpful when an individual is sitting in the same position for a prolonged period of time.
“There can be a number of factors at play - from the make of the car, to the set-up of the cabin, to the position the individual adopts while driving. Having your seat pushed back too far, for example, not sitting at the correct height, or even resting your elbow on the window ledge while holding the steering wheel, could all actually lead to painful irritations.
“It’s even more of a problem if you drive for a living, where habitually compromised posture, combined with inactivity and the potential for unhealthy eating, could all contribute to potential health and injury issues.
“While an optimum driving position is all down to an individual’s needs, as opposed to hard and fast rules for all, it’s crucial commuters are mindful of their posture while in their vehicles.
“And when it comes to educating and supporting people to achieve positive outcomes, preventing niggles or flare-ups recurring, there are some simple tips you can implement.”
One of the most pressing concerns for Victoria is the impact commuting can have on delicate backs.
She adds: “Lower back pain (LBP) is a continual burden on our population - despite decades of research, varied advice and new techniques introduced to try and address LBP concerns.
“Since two-thirds of people who experience an episode of LBP are more than likely to have a painful recurrence within a year, it goes without saying there is a significant benefit to preventing any further episodes.
“Commuting to work with poor posture is, again, a risk factor for LBP that needs addressing.”
Here Sports and Exercise Scientist Victoria outlines some of her posture-related commuting tips:
Get the seating position right
“The basic principle here is to sit up - shoulders and head back - with the seat as high as is comfortable while still being able to operate the car. Your legs should be neither too extended, nor too flexed, where your knees are brushing the bottom of the steering wheel, as this might aggravate the hamstrings.
When your foot’s on the accelerator, your leg is in what’s known as a ‘plantarflex’ position - ie, with the foot and toes in a pointed position. If your seat is too far back, this position causes you to have to reach for the accelerator and over time this may create discomfort both in the extended leg and the back due to disrupted pelvic alignment.”
Keep both hands on the wheel
“Remember that when you’re driving, you’re subjected to tiny movements, little oscillations of the road. If you’re in a poor position, these slight movements may actually contribute to irritations of areas of the body over prolonged time or may even exacerbate injury. My advice is to keep both hands on the wheel in a ten to two position - left hand being at 10 o’clock and right hand at 2 o’clock - so that the body is in balance and these movements have minimal effect.”
Be mindful of where your arms are positioned
“I’ve had a good number of lorry drivers who’ve come to see me in the physio clinic with shoulder pain. And it can happen to anyone who does this: resting your arm or elbow on their window frame, while also holding the wheel. It’s something many people do without realising the potential problems this driving position creates.
For me, it’s all about motorists being mindful of how their subtle behaviours might affect their bodies - because education is a key part of the rehabilitation process when it comes to injuries.”
Plan your journey and stay hydrated
“On longer journeys, plan to stop regularly - roughly every hour - so you can get out of the car and move around. This movement is really important - as it stimulates all the vital systems in your body, helping you to stay healthy while also warding off injury. Keep well hydrated, too. Many individuals restrict their fluid intake on longer journeys due to concerns about having to stop to use the bathroom. But this is not good for your body, leading to muscle cramping, loss of concentration, and even injury. It’s vital you keep hydrated when you’re behind the wheel!”
And when you get to the office…
Don’t over-work your body’s core structures
“If you’re not utilising your structures correctly while sitting at your desk, something has to give. You might not notice it when you’re young, but you’ll feel the effects of irritation to joints, ligaments and tendons when you’re older because you’ve ‘levered’ in the wrong positions for a number of years.”
Avoid ‘chin poking’
“What a lot of people do when they’re at their desks is to sit forward in a sort of chin-poking style, therefore compromising the cervical spine, while staring at their screens.
We might see an increase in something called ‘thoracic kyphosis’, where the upper back bends forward, as well as a fixed pelvic position that may influence lumbar back pain.
And the issues are all inter-linked - if one area of the body is having to work harder than another, irritations may occur. This is why setting up your desk and your screen is really important - as is ensuring that you’ve got adequate amounts of movement built-in to your working day, even if it’s just standing up every 30 minutes for a short walk or movements such as yoga.”
Avoid tension headaches
“If you experience tension around the head muscles, take regular breaks, and try to get those muscles moving. This can even be done while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil! Try moving your head to look down, then up, then to each side, and to face forward. Move your ear to the direction of your shoulder and then repeat on the other side - this can help to ease some of those tensions. Concentration on your breathing in a controlled manner while doing this also may help, too. Open and close your mouth as wide as is comfortable - and even stick your tongue out. This may help the smaller muscles around the jaw to relax, as tension may be caused by clenching your teeth together when feeling stressed. Scrunch-up your eyes and then open them wide. This moves muscles and joints to positions that might have been stationary for a period of time.
Clearly, you may want to do some of these exercises in private, as sticking your tongue out in public while opening and closing your mouth may attract unwanted attention!
And if symptoms persist, it is worth speaking to an optician or your GP.”
** To learn more about Liverpool Hope University’s School of Health Sciences, head .