How they sit at the wheel gives 75 per cent of drivers back pain

Back pain

Back pain affects three quarters of drivers (Picture iStock/Chesiire Cat)

Three quarters of UK drivers suffer from back pain because of their car’s seating position. Researchers from car supermarket Motorpoint quizzed drivers about how they sit when behind the wheel. They discovered that many didn’t know what the proper seating angle was. And when shown different examples, a third thought the wrong seating position was correct. Read on to find out how to sit in your car.

How many drivers aren’t sitting comfortably

A lot of us. When drivers were shown diagrams giving three options of how they should sit at the wheel, nearly a third (30 per cent) picked the wrong position. Of the drivers asked, 16 per cent chose a position that would make them lean too far back, 14 per cent hunched too far forwards over the wheel.

Back pain

Three out of 10 drivers sit either too far back or too far forwards (Picture iStock/neyro2008)

Who is affected?

It’s not the creaking joints of the more mature driver that suffer while sitting at the wheel. According to Motorpoint, drivers aged 25-34 years-old are the most likely to get back pain at the wheel. In that age bracket, 83 per cent said they suffered. The next age group was 35-44 year-olds with 79 per cent having bad backs. More women than men apparently find driving uncomfortable.

Why do so many people suffer from bad backs?

The study found that three quarters of drivers (75 per cent) experience back pain because of how they sit in their car. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, back experts say the human body isn’t designed to sit down for long periods. We are supposed to be either standing or lying down.

In addition to that, many modern cars have driving positions that are slightly offset. This is when the pedals are at a different angle to the seat. Sometimes the steering wheel can be at another angle again. Although the differences in angle involved are tiny, they are sufficient to make drivers twist slightly. Over time this can aggravate the lower back, leading to pain.

How should drivers sit?

Physiotherapist from Pr1mebody Tim Blakey said: “Awareness is key. Do you slump to one side with your elbow on the centre console, window or door? Does your seat cushion bulge at one side? If so, try to balance yourself out. The key isn’t to try to sit with perfect posture 24/7. That’s unsustainable and actually impossible. The most important thing we can do is to move more. This may mean taking frequent opportunities to get out of the car and walk or stretch.”

Clare Henson-Bowen a physio at Bespoke Wellbeing says drivers should keep the seat as close to the wheel as is comfortable so their elbows are relaxed. They should adjust the backrest so it supports the spine without them leaning too far back. And drivers should adjust mirrors to avoid excessive twisting.

Read more about how to drive without back pain here

16 comments on “How they sit at the wheel gives 75 per cent of drivers back pain

  1. S. MacLaren April 28, 2018 12:47 am

    Upper back and shoulder/neck pain is a problem too. In my 36 years of driving, I have noticed that the moving forward of the central line of the seat of the neck restraint (used to be caused head rest) causes the shoulders and neck bent forward, and unnatural slight hunching posture which people should avoid at all costs. This is supposedly to prevent the whiplash effect for the neck in any incident (driven by EU standards), but what good is ‘safe’ neck position if one’s life is made a misery by postural aches?

  2. John Purdon May 16, 2018 4:59 am

    Here’s one you won’t come across very often. I’m a right leg amputee and have used my left foot to work the 2 pedals on automatics for the last 40 odd years. I don’t suffer from back pain, even though each journey sees me sitting across the seat. I’ve always had VW cars, or the occasional Volvo. The only one that gave me problems was a MK3 Golf, due to the well documented issues with shoulder hunching position at the top of the backrest.
    I’ve recently bought a V40 with leather seats and they allow me to easily side about on journeys to effect small changes in position. I can’t drive any BMW or Mercedes because the accelerator is so far to the right there’s nowhere to put my right foot. Try it!

  3. Joyce Murphy June 11, 2018 7:11 pm

    I must have it right, I go INTO my car for back relief.

  4. John Gainey June 14, 2018 5:09 am

    Hi sitting upright with full support for the back does it for me thanks Thanks for the advice take care on the road today

  5. Anthony Cooksley June 14, 2018 11:30 am

    My view is that seat design is poor. I remember as a police driver spending long hours, often at speed, on those bench seats. This was when my back troubles started. Successive jobs with long hours at the wheel did little to improve it. My advice would be a lumbar support at all times when driving. I never drive without one now. I can cope with long drives provided I go no longer than two hours without a stop. Having dogs requires me to walk them frequently, and this seems to do the trick. I still use the ‘ten to three’ hand position on the steering wheel which ensures I am seated squarely behind the wheel.

    • Ken R. Bowen July 10, 2018 8:59 am

      when we used to take our younger daughter to Bradford university, in Yorkshire from Somerset, it took us just over 4 hours in total, but we stopped near Birmingham in 2 hours, which made the journey a good one.

  6. R.Smith June 17, 2018 9:54 pm

    One important point to remember is HOW MUCH TIME is spent driving. I have been driving for over 30 years and have noticed that the longer I spend at the wheel, the worse the back pain becomes. The problem is often that you can’t stop for a break and get out of the car, either because you are in a hurry, or the road/route does not allow you to stop eg. motorway driving. More and more, people are getting stuck in mile-long tailbacks where you can be stuck in your car seat for hours – nowhere to go. This will again worsen the pain and discomfort. When the body is forced to remain in this unnatural position, this is a major reason why it becomes uncomfortable. Also, a car seat is generally movement restrictive, whereas a normal seat should allow you to flex about a bit and stretch your legs. In addition, people may often get up out of their seats at more frequent intervals, which relieves the stress on the back, whereas in a car, you are expected to stay in that position for longer periods.

  7. B.Smith June 18, 2018 1:39 pm

    During my many miles at the wheel of a car in the UK/ USA and Europe in many different makes and models, I confess I can recall only two products where I could claim not to get tired/ fatigued or with back ache and those were Renault R8 and the Saab model range. Sadly, young marketing types who plaritherate the car industry gain little knowledge of distance driving, or, have any idea how the disabled or infirm have to cope with their unsuitable products from a basic design. For example, front passenger seat entry/ exit / comfort adjustment – they do often partially provide for the driver only. Few with flat floor boot opening which is a must really as many shoppers / wheel chair users etc.
    So called style overrides all considerations.
    However, perhaps when new/ used car financial services sales get tight the automotive industry may listen?

  8. ian June 21, 2018 9:21 am

    No mention of the constriction caused by the seat belt, which is eased by raking the backrest further back.

    • tonywjones44 November 6, 2018 12:28 pm

      But if you do that you will further away from the wheel than you should be which will restrict your ability to move the wheel quickly in an emergency and you lower back will not be supported properly. There are a number of products on the market that can modify the position of the upper seatbelt runner.

      • Alan Higson November 8, 2018 10:08 am

        All models of the Ford Cortina gave me some back pain,this i was told was caused by the steering column being slightly off center to the left,so that the driver was sat off center line causing slight twisting.As the Cortina was very popular with company reps,the condition became known as” CORTINA BACK”
        Alan 17

  9. Martin Field November 5, 2018 8:37 pm

    Re 4th paragraph – Oh bugger, does this mean I should drive standing or lying down? Impossible I’m afraid! I don’t have a sun roof and if I lie down I fall asleep. I jest of course! Seriously, position and comfort are of vital importance and vehicle manufacturers should take this more into account, including footwell space for those of us who are rather well endowed in the …….feet region.

  10. Melanie Davies November 6, 2018 8:35 am

    I have an ergonomic driving seat and position in my car which is so important when driving but this needs to be of huge significance when buying or changing ones car but this is missed by the buyers and manufacturers of new cars. This needs to be put into the “needs must” category especially when purchasing.

  11. John Pilkington November 7, 2018 12:23 pm

    A lot of men have a wallet in there back pocket of there trousers, this can cause pressure on the sciatic nerve which can be very painful.In my opinion the driving seat must be positioned in a comfortable position.

  12. Craig Hawley November 7, 2018 8:22 pm

    Nothing to do with bumping up and down and jolting from pointless road humps and pot holes the size of wishing wells then??

  13. Glenn Sealey November 8, 2018 3:59 pm

    I drive an XF which has seat, pedals and steering wheel all in line, and I hold the wheel at quarter to three. All comfortable. When it was in for servicing I had a curtesy car and nothing was in line and the manual gear lever was in a strange position to my upper left. It cannot be that hard to build everything in line.

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