Important Message from ProHealth Founder, Rich Carson

Chronic pain is a pain in the … backside

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Chronic pain is a pain in the …backside – literally. We recently purchased a new car and now less than a month later are looking for another car. Why? Because of my husband’s back pain, which is exacerbated by the seats in the car we bought. Although we both live with pain, neither of us thought to consider that fact when looking for a new car. That was a mistake, which will prove costly.

We’ve been a one-car household for about five years, and it was eight years before that when we last bought a car. Needless to say, the seats in our 13-year old car are well worn and comfortable. When we started the search for a new car, we looked first for safety and dependability, followed by color, bells and whistles, etc. We test drove five different cars, all of which were good in one way or another, calculated the pluses and minuses, and after a few days of going back and forth, finally decided on THE car.

The car we decided on, a Lexus RX 350L, ranks high in the safety and dependability ratings, is beautiful, equipped with several fun and interesting extras – and driving it causes my husband’s sciatica to flare like a fire-breathing dragon. Twenty minutes into the drive, and his feet are tingling and going to sleep. Thirty minutes into the drive, and he’s in agony. He’s fiddled with every single adjustment available on the power seat. We’ve bought and sent back a half-dozen seat cushions and back supports. Nothing works.

The bucket seats do not agree with his backside. And now we’re on the hunt again for a car, equipped with an additional list of requirements. Spine Nation published an article in 2019 titled, Best Cars to Buy for People with Bad Backs: The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide, stating “The most important feature for people with bad backs is a smooth ride along with lumbar support and an adjustable seat… Be sure to choose a car with seat cushions that have the right balance between firmness and pliability. As with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, your seats cushions should not be too soft or too hard. Hard seats leave you arching your back, which creates back strain.”

This Goldilocks has yet to find the right car.

With my husband’s spinal stenosis and degenerative disk disease and my fibromyalgia, it’s important that we find a car with the right back support. Most cars allow the seats to move forward and backward, up and down; some have buttons that allow the seat bottom to tilt forward. These are important factors because I am short and need to move the seat forward and down and tilt the seat bottom down so the end of the seat is not cutting into the backs of my knees. My husband is taller, so he pushes the seat back farther and up more.

Driving involves sitting, which we know can make back pain worse, and posture matters when driving. For many of us who sit at a desk all day, slumping is not unusual, and it often follows us to the car. Here we are in our car:  our shoulders, upper and lower back are rounded, and our pelvis is slouched. No wonder we’re in pain!

Per physiotherapist Mark Wong, the correct posture for driving includes:

  1. Putting the pelvis in a neutral position.
  2. Positioning the torso so that the rib cage “floats” above the pelvis.
  3. Positioning shoulders wide and long.
  4. Positioning the head, with the chin gently tucked in and neck as elongated as possible.

The headrest should support our heavy head. Did you know that a “normal head weighs about 10-12 pounds, but if you have forward head posture of two inches, your head could be putting forces on your neck and upper back like a head that weighs 24 pounds!” (1) That’s a big difference, and many of us jut our heads forward when driving.

So, while we continue our daily regimens of self-care (stretching, exercise, ice and heat, and rest), we’re back on the market for a new car. Here are some of our new considerations:

  • Easy to get into and out of the car
  • Soft(er) seats – probably no leather
  • Lumbar support
  • Smooth ride
  • High degree of adjustability, including cushion angle and length and thigh support
  • A test drive longer than 30 minutes

Just think how difficult we’d find it looking for the right horse and buggy – thank you, Henry Ford!

Cindy Leyland is a perfectionist, whose superpower is bringing calm to chaos. Her daytime (and sometimes nighttime) hours are spent working as the Vice President of Operations and Fund Development at the Center for Practical Bioethics, whose mission is to raise and respond to ethical issues in health and healthcare. She serves as a Board Member for The Pain Community and LivingLove International, both of which share her life missions of passion, compassion and peace. She’s the spoiled wife of Dave and a grateful mom, stepmom, mom-in-law and Grandma.

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