The number one complaint by plane, train and automobile travelers – when describing the onset of their back pain – is sitting for too long. Even sitting for a relatively short commute of 20 minutes, twice a day can impact your health. Luckily, the discomfort associated with travel can be greatly reduced, and in many cases you can avoid back pain from sitting entirely.

Tim Hutchful, a chiropractor from the British Chiropractic Association says:

There is almost twice as much pressure on your back when you are sitting incorrectly than there is if you stand up. Those most at risk are the people who not only spend long periods of time in the car, but also those who make infrequent short journeys in the car – because it can be compared to an unaccustomed form of exercise.

Sitting incorrectly such as being stuck in a hunched position, leaning on one side or in an incorrectly adjusted seat, will also put you at greater risk of long term injury. The hunched over position weakens your core muscles, which are needed to help support the back. If held for long periods, day in and out, the muscles conform to that hunched position and will shorten making it harder for you to stand tall and straight. You’ll look older sooner!

Tips for avoiding back pain while sitting and while driving:

  • If you share a car, make sure the seat position is adjusted to fit you each time you get in. Check the position of the mirrors as well to avoid neck strain and for safety.
  • The seat should be tilted so that your hips are slightly above your knees. This helps blood flow to the lower limbs and will help you avoid Deep Vein Thrombosis.
  • The back of the seat should be tilting slightly backwards, so that it feels natural and your elbows should be at a comfortable and relaxed angle for driving. Holding the wheel at the three and nine o’clock position will also help your thumbs be in less danger of injury should your airbags ever deploy.
  • Once you have adjusted your seat correctly, your hands should fall naturally on the steering wheel. Your wrists should be relaxed and not overly bent with just a slight bend in the arms. If the wheel is too high and far away, tension will build up in your shoulders and upper back. You want to avoid having the wheel touch your legs, which would reduce your ability to turn it freely, putting strain on the wrists and the muscles of the upper back.

Take care of yourself and keep these points in mind the next time you get into the car. Remind yourself from time to time and pretty soon these adjustments will become automatic. Who needs the pain?! As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is the best cure.

Elaine Masters, Yoga teacher, Trip Wellness Specialist and award-winning author of Drivetime Yoga and Flytime Yoga. More tips and information at:

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