Avoid back pain behind the wheel

 Published 17th August 2023
Driver Guides 

We've all been there. You've been driving for hours, your body feels like it's been set in concrete, and the only thing that will get your back straightened out again is a sledgehammer.

The obvious solution to this problem is to lease yourself a Rolls-Royce, employ a chauffeur, and spend every journey stretched out in comfort on the back seat. Alternatively, back in the real world, road safety organisation GEM is offering practical tips to beat back pain that don't require you to be a millionaire.

The human spine is a strange design. When early hominids made the transition to walking upright a few million years ago it freed up their hands for other useful tasks, but it left us with a tendency for backache that we haven't been able to overcome despite all the advancements of modern medicine.

Our backs evolved to bend and twist and move around, so sitting in the same position for hours at a time is inevitably going to lead to aches and pains.

Stiffness and backache are frequent complaints reported by drivers, but there are simple solutions that can make a big difference to your comfort and safety. Common complaints include lower back pain, a stiff neck, foot cramps, sore shoulders, and even finger cramps. Small changes to posture and driving position could make driving much more comfortable.

GEM chief executive Neil Worth said: “As human beings we were not built to sit in a constrained posture, sometimes for long periods of time. No wonder this so often leads to stiffness and reduced mobility, especially among older drivers.”

Discomfort at the wheel can be a serious distraction on any journey, so it is vital to take whatever steps you can to reduce or remove back pain, allowing you to focus fully on the driving. Let's face it, if your back is killing you and you can't wait to get out of the car, it's unlikely you'll be driving to the best of your ability.

The autumn edition of GEM's highly acclaimed member magazine Good Motoring includes a detailed look at ways of alleviating back pain. It's part of a long-running series on driver well being created by health journalist Susie Kearley. Good Motoring was first published in 1935, and after a particularly long journey it can sometimes feel like your back is just as old as the magazine.

According to Susie, taking regular breaks on a long journey is the most important step to relieving the strain. Getting out of the car, walking about, and stretching will help to alleviate the worst of the aches. Take a break whenever you feel your back muscles tightening because the more you stop and move about, the less likely you are to end up with back pain. If you're already one of the millions of people prone to back problems, stretching before your journey can be particularly helpful too.

Given its commitment to road safety, GEM obviously wants every driver to stay as safe as possible behind the wheel, and reducing back pain is a key part of improving that safety. It has compiled a list of tips to help drivers and passengers enjoy more comfortable journeys. These are based on the process of ageing and how it can affect our ability to get in and out of the car or drive around safely and in comfort.

GEM's tips for safer, more comfortable car journeys


Take the time to plan any long journeys or trips on unfamiliar roads. Build in time for frequent breaks.


Adjust your seat to ensure you can reach and fully press the pedals without your back moving away from the back of the seat. Keep some bend in your knees, as having them too straight can cause pain.


Try not to slouch in the driving seat, as this is a common cause of back pain. Leaning forward can increase pressure on the back muscles and spine, so good posture is particularly important on long journeys.


Empty your back pockets before getting into the car. A mobile phone or wallet pushing into your lower back can misalign your spine and cause unnecessary pain.

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