Don’t let your car ride turn into a weekend of back and hip pain!

Don’t let this long weekend’s car ride lead to a long weekend of back and hip pain.
How can you adjust your car seat and ease the load on your body?

Long weekends are synonymous with long car rides and sadly this can mean an aggravation to our patients lower back and hip conditions.  Have you noticed yourself the difference when you sit in someone else’s car seat or when someone has moved your car seat position? It’s not only the car seat itself, but also the position you hold your body in when you drive or sit in the car. How you hold your body when sitting, can affect not only the load on your lower back and hips, but also your upper back, shoulders and neck. 

When discussing car seat positions with my patients at our Physiotherapy clinic in Dee Why, I often break it down in 4 key position areas of adjustment. 

  1. Arm position
  2. Knee/hip position
  3. Lower back/pelvis position
  4. Head position.

1. Arm position.  This one may seem fairly straight forward as you would think putting your hands up to a steering wheel would naturally centre your body. This is true except for the monotony of a long car ride in which the habit of leaning on the centre console or resting your arm on the window can pivot your body to one side and affect the load placed through your hips and lower back. Try to perform regular shoulder rolls and squeezes to help engage your mid thoracic (upper back) muscles and aid in keeping your arms upright and aligned centred to the steering wheel. 

2. Knee/Hip position. The angle of you knee/hip when placing your foot on the pedal is usually only thought about in a horizontal directional plane, moving the car seat forwards or backwash. This tends to be the main adjustment we make to our car seat in terms of sliding the seat forwards of backwards. Many car seats now days have an extra angle of adjustment in the vertical plane too. The angle of the height of your knee to your hip, can change the load applied to your pelvis and lower back. I prefer to have my patients in a more obtuse angle in their hip when sitting in the car. This simply means to try to tilt your car seat down so your knee is more level or even lower than your hip when driving. If you car seat doesn’t allow for this adjustment, you can easily create this angle by sitting on a wedge cushion or creating your own with some towels. 

3. Lower Back Position. This can vary greatly depending on the type of seat your car has. Most commonly we tend to slouch through our lower back as many car seats are a classic bucket shape. This position flattens out the natural curve in our spine changing our alignment and adding extra pressure through the vertebrae and discs in our back. Slouching also reduces our bodies’ ability to activate our core muscles meaning our spine is even less supported.  To help encourage the correct alignment of your spine, firstly ensure you are seated all the way back in your seat. Then check if you car seat has a lever to adjust the lumbar support area. You will feel an increase in the support to your lower spine which aids in maintaining your natural curve. If you car seat does not have this adjustment point, you can use a lumbar support cushion or a rolled up towel placed horizontal across your lower back. 

4. Head position. Many drivers tend to have a forward head carry position when driving. This means their chin is poked forward resulting in the head descending down onto the neck and an increase in the curve of the upper back.  The position of your head should be very simple in terms of gently tucking your chin and resting your head on your car seats headrest. You may need to angle the position of the vertical upright to allow you upper back and head to gently rest into this position.  

Our Physiotherapy clinic here in Dee Why wishes you a very happy long weekend and please don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like any more information or guidance on your body’s health. Ph: 9972 3304 email:,

Written By Rebecca Feros Senior Physiotherapist | Clinical Pilates teacher at Inspire Physiotherapy and Pilates, Dee Why. BAppSc (Ex&SpSc), MPhty, APAM.

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