Posture in the Car

We sit at the breakfast table, on the drive to work, at work, during lunch, on the drive to pick up kids, at dinner, and then on the couch before bed. Think about how much time you spend sitting. We didn't even discuss the time in front of the computer.

If you sit for 12 hours a day, how much of that time is with great posture? How many breaks do you take from sitting during the work day? Some people are at the computer for several hours at a time before moving, and their posture is usually poor.

It is easy to slouch at the computer, especially with a poor work station set up. If the computer monitor is too low it naturally enhances a slouch by bringing the head and shoulders forward. The torso is leaning toward the monitor, which changes the natural curves in the body and places extra stress on the neck, upper back, shoulder, and scapular stabilizing muscles. Over time this overworks the muscles, leading to spasms and loss of flexibility. Excessive slouching leads to chronic neck, shoulder, back, or headache pain.

Pain is eventually what brings people into the office seeking help. The first conversation includes ways and the importance of improving posture while at the computer. Everyone can identify with how hard it is to hold a box with your arms extended in front of you compared to against your chest. Yet when we slouch we extended our head in front of our center of gravity, overworking the neck and shoulder muscles. The neck muscles have to work much harder during the day to support a slouching head as compared to a head sitting straight up. These overworked muscles cause people's pain. People who improve their computer posture quickly notice a difference in neck pain and muscle fatigue at the end of the day.

The second posture conversation involves driving. How is your posture while driving? Would you say that your head is above your shoulders and pelvis? Are your arms and shoulders in a comfortable position?

Next time you are on the road look at people's posture while driving. Notice the person driving with their left hand on top of the steering wheel, and how that causes their left shoulder to hike upward and body to lean right. Look at the person who has both hands on the steering wheel and their torso rounded and neck leaning forward. Can you see how rounding the upper back places extra strain on the neck and shoulders?

Now as an experiment, sit straight up with great posture and then slouch forward. What happened to your pelvis, did it rock? Did you notice how the supportive lumbar curve flattens and actually rounds the opposite direction? Sitting in a slouched position places extra stress and strain on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the neck, shoulders, upper back, and low back. After a while slouching begins to damage the tissue, leading to injuries and muscle spasms.

Obviously we want to improve posture while sitting in the car to reduce the strain on the body. It is also important to create motion in the joints and stretch the muscles. Just like sitting at the computer, the car provides options for taking microbreaks from our static postures.

Unlike a desk where we can stand up and stretch for a minute, in a car we need to be a little more creative. Some of the microbreaks can be performed while driving, others should be done at a red light.

The first microbreak is to squeeze your shoulder blades together for 20-30 seconds and repeat three times. The second is to rock your pelvis forward and backward for one to two minutes. The third break is to perform the yes, no, maybe exercises for three sets of 10. (Specific directions and pictures can be see on Neck Exercises and Neck Stretches page.

On long car rides it is important to change positions frequently. Try moving the seats forward and backward periodically. Sit up straight against the back of the seat with a tall spine. Some people may need to adjust the forward or backward tilt of the back rest to improve their posture. Work on keeping your hips square and level. Just like sitting at a computer, your head should be facing forward and chin level. A chin that is pointing down increases the likelihood of rounding your shoulders and leaning the head forward. Many people find their posture is improved when their hands are at the 3 and 9 o'clock positions or lower.

People spend a significant amount of time in the car. Improving your posture will decrease the stress and strain on your neck, upper back, low back, and pelvis; and possibly reduce some of your musculoskeletal pain. Taking microbreaks is a great way to reduce muscle spasms and fatigue, especially when stopped at a red light.

A review of posture at the computer can be found at our Posture page.