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Stay comfortable in the car

A man grips the steering wheel of a car.

Feb. 16, 2024—Good ergonomics can help keep your back and neck happy and healthy at work. But they're just as important when you're on the road, whether you're commuting or traveling for work (or fun).

Some simple changes—and good driving habits—can make driving easier on your back. Start with this advice from the American Occupational Therapy Association, Arthritis Foundation, National Safety Council and other experts.

Set up your seat. For a comfortable drive, position your car seat so you can reach the pedals and steering wheel easily. Keep in mind:

  • Your chest should be 10 or more inches from the steering wheel to leave room for airbag deployment.
  • Your feet should be able to push or release the pedals completely without straining forward or only using your toes.
  • You should be able to easily reach and hold the steering wheel without stretching. Make sure your sight line is above the wheel by at least 3 inches.

Check the headrest height. It should be as high as the top of your head—don't go more than 2.5 inches lower.

Consider the angles. Adjust the angle of your backrest and seat tilt to support your spine. It may be helpful to add a lumbar (lower back) cushion.

Wear your seatbelt—comfortably. Most vehicles let you adjust the seatbelt's top position so it sits across your chest properly. If it rubs against your neck, move toward the center of your seat or raise the seat to keep the belt across your shoulder.

Take breaks. Long drive? Take stretching and walking breaks every few hours. Don't forget to stretch to relieve muscle tension. Walking is great for loosening stiff muscles.

Remember proper posture. Don't hunch over the wheel. That makes lower back pain worse. Check periodically to make sure you haven't slouched over again.

Pack hot and cold packs. Get relief on long drives by having what you need at hand. If you're traveling, don't forget to bring any medications you might need.

With just a few adjustments and healthy habits, you can get more comfortable while you're on the road. Your back will thank you.

Want to learn more about back-friendly travel? Visit our Backs health topic center for helpful tips.


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