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Six tips to help car and van drivers avoid back pain

Long hours behind the wheel can leave drivers with crippling back pain. Here’s how you can ease the discomfort...

Van back pain article

Too many people experience back pain while driving, with van drivers and other motorists who spend long hours behind the wheel particularly prone to serious discomfort.

Sitting stationary for extended periods of time is one of the main culprits, while poor posture and low levels of fitness can also cause aches and strains.

Although there’s no magic bullet for relieving symptoms, the good news is that making a few simple changes can quickly lead to big improvements. Here are six tips to help.

Driving position in a Ford Focus Estate

1. Get your seat position right

When tackling back pain, a driver’s seat position is everything.

Sit as far back into the seat as you can, and make sure the backrest is in contact with as much of your back as possible. Your legs and torso should create an angle between 100 and 110 degrees; reclining further than this could strain your neck and shoulder muscles.

If possible, adjust the base of your seat so it supports the full length of your thighs, which should be parallel to the floor.

Slide the seat into a position where you can fully depress the pedals while maintaining a slight bend in your knee. The centre of the headrest should align with the middle of your head, with a small gap between the two.

2. Adjust everything for comfort

Next, adjust the steering wheel to a position that feels comfortable. Your elbows should rest at least at a 90-degree angle, although the wheel shouldn’t be so close to your chest that it prevents the airbag from working effectively.

Sit up very slightly to adjust the rear-view and side mirrors, because this will stop you from slouching while you drive. You should be able to glance at your mirrors without excessively twisting your neck.

If you have a sat-nav or infotainment system, it’s important you can operate these without stretching too far.

Van seat adjustment

3. Take regular breaks

Being static for too long reduces blood flow, restricting the supply of oxygen to your muscles. To compensate, you should take regular breaks from driving, at least every two to three hours. Even a short walk will get your circulation going and boost your concentration when you get back on the road.

Provided it’s safe, gently squeeze affected muscles while on the move to reduce soreness. Shifting your weight slightly every 15 minutes will help.

4. Maintain your vehicle

Corny though it is, look after your vehicle and your vehicle will look after you.

In particular, making the most of the ride comfort will reduce the forces caused by the jolts and vibrations that are common on UK roads. Get your suspension seen to if it shows signs of worsening performance, and check your tyre pressures frequently so they meet the manufacturer’s recommendations.

5. Exercise

It may seem obvious, but regular exercise will improve your core strength and allow you to drive further without developing back pain. Swimming is especially good, but cycling and running can be beneficial too.

If your job involves heavy lifting, it’s vital that you keep your back straight and knees bent when handling goods. A back brace is worth considering to provide extra support.

Van Driver

6. Get creative

There are other tricks you can try if back pain persists. If you have cruise control and heated seats, use them. The former will reduce your pedal usage on the motorway, while the latter can offer soothing relief when back pain is at its worst.

If your vehicle’s seats don’t have adjustable lumbar support, experiment with a cushion or a folded scarf; you want to support the curve in your spine without pressing into it.

You should also keep your back pockets empty. It’s easy to leave odds and ends in there if you can’t feel them, but even small items can cause an imbalance in the alignment of your spine, leading to pressure points.

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