Road-Trip Ergonomics

Spring is upon us, and with the change in weather, people are starting to hit the road for vacations and taking those much anticipated summer road trips. We gather our friends and family, pile the car with all of our stuff and hit the road. While on these road trips, ask yourself weather:

1) Have any one of you ever driven too long without taking a break, trying to get to your destination in a reasonable time?
2) Have you ever noticed how stiff you are (neck, lower back, shoulder or legs) when finally getting out of the car after driving for longer periods of time? Typically these symptoms come in the form of cramps, stiffness, muscular tension or pain.

In this blog, we will help you to understand the risk factors associated with developing discomfort during long period of driving, and how to avoid them so you can enjoy your trip.

Often, our risk of discomfort and injury is increased based on personal habits (poor seated postures) or car features (set up of seat location and position). A few popular causes for discomfort are:

– Backrest Adjustment: Sitting too forward (away from your backrest) or sitting with too much recline can both increase stresses on your body but in different ways. A lack of support from the backrest increases the workload on the postural muscles in the back. Conversely, if sitting back in the chair but with an excessive recline, you not only are reducing your visibility of the road but the head tends to protrude forward to allow us to see, and the arms must extend forward to access the steering wheel. These postures increase the workload in the neck and the shoulders.

– Seat Pan Adjustment: The seat angle can play a role in your leg and back comfort. If the seat is too low, the knees extend upwards and increased stress is exerted on your lower back. If a seat angle is adjusted so the front edge is higher than the back edge, there is increased pressure on the back of the thighs which may reduce circulation to the lower limbs.

– Foot Pedal Location: If the seat is positioned too far from, or too close to, your accelerator & brake pedals, the muscles in the legs must work harder than normal to activate them throughout the drive. Furthermore, if the steering wheel is too low, leg movement may be hindered. These can lead to cramping in the leg muscles.

– Head Restraint Location: The head restraint is an important safety feature for preventing whiplash in vehicular accidents. However, from a day-to-day musculoskeletal activity perspective, it is important that it does not encourage a forward head posture. When a head restraint is at an incorrect height or angle it can encourage the head to move forward which increases the workload of the neck muscles.

– Duration: This is the most important of all of the risks of developing an MSI on a road trip. All of the above mentioned risks become really problematic when the driver is exposed to them over extended periods. Taking regular breaks along your trip is important for your health and allows us to mitigate the risk factors noted here.

The following diagram helps illustrate some important adjustments to remember when setting up your driver’s seat before hitting the road:

Most important is remembering to take breaks at those pit stops along your way. At a minimum, you should pull over to take a break at least once every 2 hours. Everybody in the car should take the opportunity to get out and stretch and walk around. Taking these breaks will help to reduce muscular fatigue along the drive and make for a more enjoyable road trip!