Tons of people come to see me with new mysterious pain patterns brought on by seemingly innocuous activities, like driving a car. Ironically, what often seems like a unique pain pattern that’s specific to one person, is really quite common across all the people on the road. If you’ve noticed that your body complains whenever your drive-time increases — helloooo, east coast snow storms — you may be experiencing a body mechanics mishap. Here are the Top 3 Things to Stop Doing, to avoid driving-induced pain.
1. STOP DRIVING WITH YOUR LEGS TURNED OUT
I kid you not; both the New York Times and the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority refer to the splayed-knees position as “manspreading.”
In the comfort of your own car, feel free to take up as much space as you’d like – that’s the issue on public transpo — but avoid that turnout position at all costs. When your leg rotates out while you’re squeezing your butt to press the gas pedal for an extended time period, you’re also squeezing your sciatic nerve. Do that for a long-enough period and you’ll create the pain pattern called sciatica, a burning pain in your butt that can travel down your leg.
DO THIS INSTEAD
Instead of the man-spread position, take a peek at your driving pedals. Notice the one on the far left? (when did that thing grow there?!) It’s the non-functioning twin to your gas pedal. Put your left foot on that and orient both kneecaps to point forward whenever you’re driving. You might need to re-position your seat to make the knees-forward position comfortable, yet it eliminates butt pain in 85 percent of my clients. Make this position a habit, and you’ll also be ready for your next trip on the NYC subway system.
2. STOP SLOUCHING IN YOUR CAR
Oftentimes, it seems like you’re in a personal bubble in your car and you should be able to get away with minor sins, like slouching. And maybe you can. Here’s your litmus test: when you climb out of the car after a long trip, does your low back ache? You might be experiencing one of two common pain patterns called ‘pinched disc’ and ‘compressed nerve.’
Sitting in a slouched position opens the bones in your low back, allowing the discs in this region to squish out behind you. When you stand up, the vertebra return to a stacked position, but often, the discs don’t return to their ideal positioning. Instead, they get pinched by the vertebra or they get pushed against spinal nerves. Do this repeatedly and you may end up with ongoing nerve pain or a herniated disc.
DO THIS INSTEAD
Instead of slouching, adjust your car seat to allow you to sit up on your sit-bones. Yes, I mean those lumps in your bum that get sore when you sit on metal bleachers. (Their science-y anatomical name: iscial tuberosities) Sit on those without leaning on your sacrum or your tailbone. For ideal comfort, your tailbone should jut back slightly in a ‘j-curve,’ not point down, according to acupuncturist Ester Gokhale, author of 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. Some folks use a small lumbar pillow to remind them to keep this position. Fine with me.
3. STOP REACHING UP TO HOLD YOUR STEERING WHEEL
Holding your steering wheel in the ‘10 o’clock/2 o’clock’ hands position is old school. I learned to hold it that way in driver’s ed, before all cars had power steering and we needed a firm grip on the wheel. Trust me; your power steering is much more sensitive than the Delta 88 I drove in the 1980’s. (Side note: it was black, with red velour bench seats. I loved driving that tank.)
Just last week one of my clients came in complaining of upper back and neck pain that arrived after a 3-hour drive in this hand position. How much do you think your arm weighs? 5 pounds? 7 pounds? 10 pounds? Hang that weight off your neck and shoulder like a teeter-totter for three straight hours and you’ve got a recipe for neck and upper back strain.
DO THIS INSTEAD
Instead, adopt the ‘4 o’clock /8 o’clock’ hands position, closer to your knees. Notice how your elbows drop down comfortably next to your torso? That’s where they like to live, not hovering in front of you. You can still move the steering wheel efficiently, you can still reach the top of the steering wheel when needed and the weight of your arms just became much more manageable.
Are there additional common Body Mechanics Mishaps while driving? Sure thing, these are just the top 3. Need a detective to help you figure out what’s going amiss and causing your pain pattern? Come see me at a Pain Free Body workshop.