Staying Healthy During Holiday Driving

Whenever I first went to physical therapy in college, my physical therapist gave me some great advice about improving my driving posture.  It really helped with my chronic shoulder pain, and it increased my driving tolerance.  With the holidays coming up soon, I’d like to share some driving posture tips with you so that you can arrive at your destination feeling refreshed and jolly!

First, let’s get back to basics!

Set your seat all the way back, as low as it will go, and recline the back about 30-40 degrees.

Next, bring your seat height up until you can easily see the road and car panel.  Your knees should be slightly higher than your hips.  If you’re as short as myself, you might need to add a cushion or wedge to the seat.  If you have to add a cushion/wedge, it should support your entire thigh to prevent circulation restriction.  If the wedge is too short, it could cause leg pain.

Foot Pedals

Move the seat forward until you can reach the pedals and completely press them down WITHOUT moving away from the seat back.

Seat Back

You should be reclined at a 100-110 degree angle in order to decrease the pressure on your lower back.  The headrest should hit the middle of your head.

Lumbar Support 

If your car doesn’t have lumbar support, it often helps to add some.  The easy way to do so is to roll up a towel and place it behind your lower back.  Since I would often drive up to 12 hours at a time, I invested in a lumbar support pillow.  The one that I purchased was a bit too soft for my tastes, but it still helped.  Here’s a link to one that I think is well made.

Steering Wheel 

The steering wheel should be placed in order to minimize your reach.  Aim for an elbow bend at around 90 degrees.  By reducing how much you reach, you are going to decrease the strain on your neck and upper back.  Also, it’s important that the airbag within is about at chest height.


Only now should you adjust your car mirrors.  My physical therapist recommended that I get in my best posture possible and set my mirrors then.  That way, if I felt tempted to slump during the drive, I wouldn’t be able to see!  (This really helps me keep pristine posture.)

Wheel Grip 

Usually, I have seen recommendations for the 3′ and 9′ o’clock wheel position for grip, and this is what I typically use.  Try to keep your wrists straight as well.  However, it’s important to change your grip every so often to increase comfort.

Other Tips

Avoid reaching for objects while driving.  This can be unsafe and painful!

Remove your wallet before driving.  Doing so will put your pelvis in proper alignment.

When entering your car, sit first.  Then, swing your legs into the car.  When leaving your car, slide your legs out first, then stand up.

Make sure to take breaks to stretch every 2 hours.  This may seem like a hassle, but it really helped me feel more focused, alert, and comfortable.  Getting to your destination 5 minutes sooner isn’t worth the pain!

Check out the video below for a quick reference.

Safe holiday travels, everyone!  


Driving Ergonomics

Setting Up Your Car Seat

I am so thankful to Greg Todd & Smart Success PT for all that I have learned about physical therapy and businessPre-register for  Smart Success that re-launches in January. Be the first to know how to Change you Career!!



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