Driving, as any professional racing-car driver will tell you, is not only mentally taxing but also hard on your body. Like sitting at a desk all day, it’s a repetitive pose that causes people to roll their necks and spines forwards, promoting inflammation, back pain and, over the years, a defeated Dilbert-like posture. Here’s how to prevent your drive time from getting the best of you.
“Good posture starts with the lower back,” says Dr Andrew Gray, a Cape Town-based biokineticist in private practice. “The important thing is to retain a gentle curve in the lower spine. Most people slouch forwards, rounding their lower backs. As a result, they end up sitting down on their tailbones, which puts excessive pressure on the discs in their spines, which in turn feeds up to their shoulders and necks.” If you stay like that for 30 minutes to an hour, he says, you’ll start to cause muscle tightness and inflammation. The solution: maintain proper spine alignment with a small pillow in the curve of your lower back or, if you car has it, fully inflate the lumbar support.
Trick out your mirrors
If using a pillow for support isn’t masculine enough for you, try this: adjust your mirrors so that they automatically keep you in the right position. Place the back of your chair upright, don’t recline and make sure you can reach the steering wheel and pedals without leaning forwards.
Men are notorious for pushing through long hauls at any cost. A better idea is to make like a girl and stop for a 10-minute pee break every two hours. “Use the break to stand up and walk around. Place your hands on either side of your spine in the lower back, more or less where the kidneys are, and gently lean backwards to stretch out your spine,” advises Gray. “This will reverse the forward curve created by sitting for prolonged periods. Also swing your arms overhead and backwards. This will loosen up your shoulders and reduce the tension in your shoulder and neck muscles.”
Use cruise control
Another secret to protecting your back can be found in your car’s on-board electronics. Applying the cruise control for long stretches of highway driving allows you to relax your feet and rest them firmly on the floor, taking pressure off your lower back.
Apply the 15-minute rule
If you’ve been on a long haul with a car full of things to be unloaded, take it easy when you first arrive at your destination. “There is evidence to suggest that physical performance can be hampered – and therefore the risk of injury increased – for up to two days following a long drive. So take it easy on your body when you finally reach your destination. Before unpacking, walk around a bit and stretch your back for 10 to 15 minutes to reduce the chance of back strain,” says Gray.