Find out if you have the ‘Commuter Slouch’
Sitting in the car or on the train for a long period of time may cause short-term pains or even long-term health ailments, specifically strains on your back, experts say.
A study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information reports that one-half of all working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms each year, spending more than $50 billion on back pain ailments.
Maggie Viggiano, physical therapist and ergonomics consultant at Good Samaritan Health and Wellness Center in Downers Grove, Ill., says being aware of your posture is so important to relieve back pain, especially if you are a daily commuter.
“Any kind of prolonged sitting, whether it’s at a desk or in front of the television, can have negative effects on your posture and back,” she says. “But most people may not be thinking of their posture when driving in the car or when they are on the train.”
In order to maintain a proper posture, she says, you must sit upright, balance your shoulders over hips and keep your chin back.
“Avoid rounding your shoulders and slumping over,” she says.
Viggiano suggests if you have a longer commute to carry a lumbar roll in a backpack. This will help maintain posture and relieve the lower back.
“When you slouch, that position puts more stress on supporting structures of your back and disc ligaments of the spine,” she says. “Most people don’t look at it as a wear and tear thing, but after years of slouched sitting you will wear down the posterior (or the back) aspect of the discs creating more potential pressure of bulging and painful herniated discs.”
Becoming aware of your posture
Viggiano says the most important way to adjust your posture for the better is to stay aware of it.
“When in the car, ensure your seat is adjusted to a comfortable position,” she says. “Make sure it’s not straight up and down – a natural inward curve for the lumbar spine is good.”
She says if you are going for a lengthy drive, change the position of the seat a little bit throughout your commute so you aren’t in a static position.
“Your thighs should be relaxed, knees slightly bent and you don’t want your left leg completely straight,” she says. “You should have a little bit of room between the end of the car seat and your knee joint so that you don’t have a lot of pressure extending into your calf, interfering with circulation.”
Once you are out of the car or train, Viggiano says a good stretch wouldn’t hurt.
“Try five to 10 gentle backward bends to stretch your back,” she says. “Also throughout the day if you sit at a desk, make sure you get up every so often to walk around and stretch.”
When on the train, Viggiano recommends you take steps to correct your posture and take notice of it while riding the rails.
If you have a laptop, e-reader or phone with you, hold it up a bit higher so you are not hunching over,” she says. “You may even want to set a reminder alarm on your phone to alert you to correct your posture.”
Viggiano says building your flexibility and strength can also help to correct posture. “Taking steps to change postural habits now can be the best prevention for future back problems,” she says.
About the Author
Sarah Scroggins, health enews contributor, is the director of social media at Advocate Aurora Health. She has a BA and MA in Communications. When not on social media, she loves reading a good book (or audiobook), watching the latest Netflix series and teaching a college night class.