Five hundred miles spread across 200 laps. The math of the Indianapolis 500 adds up to drivers spending several hours strapped into cars that rocket around the track. It also increases the risk of back pain—so much so that elite drivers make strengthening the lumbar region a part of their training regimen. A weak back, as an Indianapolis chiropractor would tell you, can lead to pain so severe it could even force pros to drop out of races.
You’re unlikely to be hurtling around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 200 mph anytime soon, and therefore aren’t subject to the vibrations, g-forces, and crashes that affect racecar drivers. But Indianapolis residents spend up to an hour in the car each day just commuting to and from work—to say nothing of vacation destinations that require long trips. The point is: Avoiding back pain is important for IndyCar drivers and minivan motorists alike, which is why we’ve compiled some tips for sitting pretty.
What’s going on when you sit?
There’s only so long you can sit in one position in the driver’s seat—especially if you have poor posture and your muscles are weak. Many people eventually roll their necks and backs forward, changing the spine’s natural S curve into a backward C, causing them to sit on their tailbones instead of the natural cushion of the buttocks. This puts excessive pressure on the disks in their spines and may foster inflammation, back pain, and even disk deterioration.
So how should you sit?
When seated properly, your knees should be level with your hips, and the foot not operating the pedals should be flat on the floor. Your seat should be close enough to the steering wheel that you’re not straining your wrists but also not gripping too hard. And don’t recline—your seat should be in an upright position. That way, when you rest your back against the seat, it supports the natural curves of your spine. If your seat doesn’t have a large enough cushion for your lumbar region (lower back), then roll up a towel or use a pillow to fill the gap.
And make sure to align the mirrors with your good posture, which should remind you to sit properly. Inevitably, though, you’ll experience some discomfort if you’re in the car long enough. There are a few ways to avoid this. On the way to work, make use of stoplights and congestion to stretch each arm across the body, flex your fingers, and rotate your wrists, neck, and shoulders. On longer car trips, stop the car every two hours or so to get out, stand up, and stretch your back.
What else can you do to alleviate back pain?
Exercise. Conditioning the muscles that support your spine can help you hold positions longer and prevent back pain. If you target the abdomen, lower back, and upper legs in your workout, you’ll soon find that many activities—including sitting—get easier. Pilates is good for strengthening the core, though personal trainers and fitness classes can also provide helpful exercises.
See a professional. Chiropractors are familiar with treating lower-back pain. They provide adjustments and other treatments that realign the spine, restore function to joints, and reduce pressure on the nerves and discs. They may also suggest strategies for everyday pain management. Indianapolis physical therapists and orthopedic physicians may recommend treatment plans for back pain as well.