Bill Ferguson
Registered Osteopath, Cranial Osteopath, Acupuncture and Sports Injuries
Tenterden Osteopath
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Special Topics

The Joys and Pains of Motoring

I first gave this talk in 2006 and it seems as appropriate now as it did then. While car engines have changed a lot the cabin and seats are still not as good as they could be and this is where driver fatigue and aching legs and back begins.

Is the car the right fit for you

Sometimes the design of the car itself can lead to back problems. If you have to drive particularly long distances, check out the cabin and layout of the controls with the four tests set out below.

If the car can pass these four simple tests then there is a good chance that it is suitable for the particular driver. By using these tests a prospective buyer can make an informed choice of car and hopefully avoid "driver’s back pain".

The four tests
  1. The praying test - The driver places both hands together, pointing forwards. If the steering wheel is not offset then the driver should be pointing straight at the centre of the wheel. The danger of having an offset wheel is that most drivers tend to rotate in the middle of the spine to compensate for its position, producing long term back strain.

  2. The fist test - With the seat in the normal driving position make a fist with left hand keeping the thumb to the side of the index finger. It should be possible to insert the fist on the crown of the head.

    If it is only just possible to insert the flat of the hand between the roof and head then there is insufficient headroom. The danger of having too little headroom is that the driver may compensate for the lack of height by slouching in the seat, which puts a strain on the spine and thighs.

  3. The look down test - With both hands placed evenly on the steering wheel look down at the legs. It should be possible to see equal amounts of both legs between the arms. Frequently the left leg will be visible but the right leg will be obscured by the right arm, which may indicate that the shoulder girdle is rotated to the left in relation to the pelvis.

  4. The right leg test - This test should be performed after driving the car for a short while. Once again, look down and examine the position of the right leg. It is elevated above the level of the left or had it fallen out towards the edge of the seat? Is the right foot roughly in line with the thigh as it should be, or has it had to come across towards the centre of the car?
When driving

  • Car seats can be adjusted to suit your posture but make sure that you always keep your seat reasonably upright, leaning backwards only at a slight angle.
  • Keep the headrest adjusted so that the centre of the headrest is level with your eyes.
  • Don’t set the headrest too low as this can allow more serious injury in an accident.
  • When getting in, sit first then swing your legs into the car. When you get out, move the seat back before swinging your legs out.
  • Do you "ride the clutch", resting your foot in the air? No wonder your ankles or calf muscles hurt!
  • Avoid reaching behind to get bags from the rear seat. Don't be lazy. Get out and open the door.
  • Be careful when loading and unloading. Lift correctly.
  • Avoid lifting unnecessary weights. Get help to change a tyre.
  • Here's how you can turn tedious commutes, traffic jams or hours spent sitting in the office into opportunities for some isometric exercises and a few stretches. Except where noted, do these exercises three to five times every 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Start at the top. Do a posture check to counteract the driver's slump. In the car, sit up straight, trying to "grow an inch" taller by bringing your shoulders back. Lift your head so that your upper spine is erect and in more of a straight line. Retract your chin so that your ears are directly in line with your shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds while breathing in and out. Do a set of five to 10 reps.
  • Open your heart. Roll your shoulders up and then back while holding the steering wheel. Gently pull your shoulder blades down and back toward your tailbone and your back pockets. This movement helps reawaken those middle back muscles. It also helps loosen shoulder muscles, which tighten during stress.
  • Let your navel kiss your spine. Tighten your abdominal muscles to scoop up your belly and pull in your waistline so that your navel moves toward your spine. This takes the stress off the lower, lumbar spine.
  • Imagine that you are holding a credit card tightly between your cheeks - and I'm not talking about your face, while counting to 10. Doing this exercise helps counter the numbness in the large gluteal muscles in your posterior that can result from prolonged sitting. Men should remove wallets from their back pockets since sitting on them can add to the numbness and increase the risk of painful sciatica.
  • Grip the wheel. Clench as tightly as possible, then release. At the same time, try to relax your shoulders and sit up straight. Repeat about one second on, one second off about 10 times. Most people don't realize how hard they are gripping the wheel. This helps you relax and is also good for stress management."
  • Heel-toe presses. During long drives on cruise control, lift your heels and push up on the toes, raising your knees a little. Then lower your heels and raise your toes slightly toward the roof of the car. Do three reps on each leg every 30 minutes. For city driving, perform this exercise at stop lights.
Contact Bill Ferguson
Osteopath Tenterden

Book an osteopathy appointment now
Tel: 01580 762754


Bill Ferguson
Tenterden Osteopath
2 St Benets Court
Tenterden, Kent
Tel: 01580 762754



© Bill Ferguson
Last Updated: 22 June, 2015