Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

Filtering by Tag: driving

Car Seats Through History, or How Did We End Up So Slouched?

You may be wondering the million dollar question...why are car seats designed so poorly if we sit in them so often?  I wondered the same thing, and thought I'd do a little gallery of car interiors in the 20th century.  I'm not a Ford® driver, but since they started making cars early on, it made it easiest to get pictures from 1904 and see how seats have changed.  (Also take note that I am not a car person, by any means, so I have little technical info about cars.)  Pay particular attention to how seats change, and the angle of seats over time.

Starting position for the Pilates Roll Up/Roll Down.  Notice the neutral spine.  (www.mypilatesstyle.com)

Starting position for the Pilates Roll Up/Roll Down.  Notice the neutral spine.  (www.mypilatesstyle.com)

So what are your conclusions?  We can see that cars, over time, have gotten much lower to the ground, for better or worse.   What that means is that there's less room for seats to be upright in the vehicle, forcing our seats to be angled backwards and our knees higher than our hips.  It is possible to sit on your sitting bones with your knees higher than your hips, but it's really hard.  If you drive a sportscar, or borrow someone else's, give it a shot.  Try it on the floor.

This picture (quepolandia.com) shows  a fairly well aligned spine in the yoga pose of boat.  His head and neck look a teensy bit off, but that could be the lighting. 

This picture (quepolandia.com) shows  a fairly well aligned spine in the yoga pose of boat.  His head and neck look a teensy bit off, but that could be the lighting. 

Placing your feet on the floor to start, sit upright on your ischial tuberosities.  Then, start to lower your upper body back, but DON'T ROUND your spine.  DON'T DO THIS right now- this is just for exploration.  Can you keep your mid-upper spine just as tall as you lower body back?  Or can you only round as you lower?  That may be how you sit in your car, especially when you have seat support to prevent your muscles from firing appropriately.   As you may recall from the first post (re: driving), we most often fall into the habit of slouching in our seats with our heads protruding forward, which is not great for our spines nor our necks, especially for musicians.

1948 Washington Post (I think) advertisement for "Comforts" of reclining.

1948 Washington Post (I think) advertisement for "Comforts" of reclining.

1972 La-z-boy ad.

1972 La-z-boy ad.

Somewhere down the line, we created the idea that sitting in a slouched position, with no muscles engaged and a big rounding in the spine = comfort.  This then translated to cars in the 1940's and 1950's, and the rest is history.  Comfort, in modern sitting, = poor alignment and muscles turned off.  Comfort=potential long term back pain, muscle weakness, misalignment, and disc damage.  These are all the same issues we battle when we sit in orchestra, or in any other situation.  Seats on the train, airplane, subway, etc., are almost always bucket style, so take a look and start noticing how you sit, and more than that, try to sit less.  Let's fight those slouchy seats, shall we, and find those ischial tuberosities!

How Do You Sit When You Drive?

In honor of my epic road trip, let's talk about driving (and riding) in cars.  First of all, Car seats are evil- not just the ones for kids, but for adults.  Bucket Seats in cars are generally way too low, with the back end of the seat much lower than the front, preventing any sort of decent seated posture.  Do any of these positions look familiar?

Here are some classic car position stereotypes, although I don't know what country has the stick shift on the left.  This is what happens when you search for poor driving posture.

Here are some classic car position stereotypes, although I don't know what country has the stick shift on the left.  This is what happens when you search for poor driving posture.

What about this pairing?  Do either of these look remotely like a good idea?  The one on the right is supposed "healthy" but it looks pretty grim to me.  Any time your hips are much lower than your knees, it's difficult to sit comfortably for any length of time.  I do often see the position on the left though, so take note, that's definitely a bad habit to wean off of.

What about this pairing?  Do either of these look remotely like a good idea?  The one on the right is supposed "healthy" but it looks pretty grim to me.  Any time your hips are much lower than your knees, it's difficult to sit comfortably for any length of time.  I do often see the position on the left though, so take note, that's definitely a bad habit to wean off of.

Do you see how in both sets of images, the back of the chair is very low, compared to the front?  What an unhelpful way to sit for hours a day (unless you have a flinstones standing car)!  Now ignoring your sitting for a moment, what about your feet?  Are you gripping your toes together as your press the gas pedal?  And what about your left leg- is it just sitting out in space?  I love this post from Katy Bowman, because I too had a misaligned pelvis while driving, and while I can't say that all of my pain has diminished from changing it, I definitely feel much better while driving.  What about your knees?  Do they face the same direction as your feet or are you feet turned out by themselves?  See if you can keep your feet facing mostly forward and knees pointing in the same direction, to prevent knee and ankle tweakiness.

We can all agree that the super rounded spine is not great while driving, but this option on the right may be one of the better options, assuming that your seats aren't sportscar low.  The image on the right includes some sort of cushion under the sitting bones, and a lumbar support behind the mid-back. 

We can all agree that the super rounded spine is not great while driving, but this option on the right may be one of the better options, assuming that your seats aren't sportscar low.  The image on the right includes some sort of cushion under the sitting bones, and a lumbar support behind the mid-back. 

Try folding up a towel or blanket the next time you drive and place the blanket underneath your sitting bones, or ischial tuberosities.  See if you can get away from the super slouched, head forward, back attack position, especially if you're driving for many hours or going on a roadtrip.

Lastly, make sure to give your arms and wrists lots of breaks when not driving.  Constantly bending your elbows and gripping a steering wheel can compound existing RSI, and start to tighten up the tissues in your forearms.  If you're switching drivers, see if you can let your arms hang and keep your head in spinal alignment.  Lastly, try to give your eye muscles some movement when you can.  At rest stops, look side to side, up and down, and make circles.  Then alternate between looking at objects right in front of you with objects far away to give the focusing aspect of your eyes a break.


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