Is Your Driving Causing your Headaches and Neck Pain?
Like a cat waking up from a nap, the first thing most people do after a long car-ride is stretch in every direction. Over the years my experience with my many clients has singled out driving as a major source of neck and shoulder pain, to the point that I now ask people about their driving habits during our initial assessment. If you spend more than a few minutes in a car every day, it is very important to make sure your driving posture isn't causing physical stress.
The number one thing to consider is the distance of the seat to the steering wheel. The majority of the population has their seat too far away, resulting in having to reach for the steering wheel. The seat should be close enough that you can reach the steering wheel comfortably, with the elbows hanging down.
Sometimes the seat is close enough, but it is tilted back too far. This forces the neck to crane forward to keep the eyes level with the road, as well as putting the steering wheel too far away. Tilt the chair back no more than 15 or so degrees.
Using lumbar support can be tremendously helpful, as I have found myself. Re-establishing neutral lumbar posture also helps with upper back alignment, and reduces stress on the entire body. I recommend the inflatable type so you can adjust the height of the pillow to suit your needs.
Also focus on keeping the shoulders and head centered over the spine. Most people don't realize how far forward their head slips while they are driving (like in the picture above). This will greatly reduce stress on your neck muscles.
Another useful strategy to remember is that it is not specific postures alone that cause pain, but spending too much time in these postures. Therefore, changing your posture frequently can be quite beneficial. There is good research that shows that fidgeters tend to get less back pain than people who can sit quietly for hours.
That's because moving around loads different parts of the body, giving a break to stressed tissues. On longer roadtrips, I sometimes do "driving aerobics": I lift my chest up and down a bunch of times, tilt my head side-to-side, circle my shoulders etc.
Not excessively enough to cause an accident, mind you, just enough to release stiff tissue. Combined with good lumbar support and the correct driving position, your neck strain will be a thing of the past!