Driving in the Car: Head on the Headrest

head on the headrestSummer means road trips in the FitzGordon house. We usually take three or four car rides between six and nine hours in length. Long hours driving in the car can take a toll on the body as it is a lot of work to sit well for such long periods of time.

Sciatica, piriformis syndrome and lower back issues in general are often exacerbated by driving but the head and neck can suffer as well. What do you do with your head when driving?  The human head is very heavy and sits on top of a long disjointed spine. Our spine is able to hold up the head because of curves that are built into its design.  The five largest bones of the spine are in the lower back or lumbar spine. The lumbar spine curves in towards the front of the body—it only needs the tiniest of curves but it is the curve of the lower spine that bears and transfers weight from the upper to lower body.

The neck or cervical spine also curves in. Not only should the curve of the neck mirror the curve of the lower back but when the lower back loses its curve it is almost impossible to maintain a curve in the neck and the correct alignment of the head. Tuck and untuck your pelvis as you read this and feel what it does to your head and neck.

Driving requires way more core strength then people realize. When you are driving for a long period of time the resting tone of your core muscles determines what kind of curve you maintain in your lower back. You don’t want to drive for five hours with your abs engaged. If you lack core tone you will invariably end up driving with your pelvis tucked under and your head forced forward.

If you drive, or even just cross the street as a pedestrian, watch drivers at red lights—their heads are almost uniformly forward of the shoulders.

I try my best to always keep the back of my head against the headrest when I drive. That is what it is there for. I am looking to nestle the base of the occiput and the top of the spine against the middle of the headrest so that my eyes are level with the road. It has the benefit of being a gentle stretch and using the car as it was designed.

When I am able to keep my head on the headrest for long periods of time I invariably feel much better when the driving is done and the fun can begin.


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