Many people create spinal stress without being aware of it. One common source of this unnoticed spinal stress is driving with a “heavy foot” on the brake and accelerator pedals. This gives your spine a jerky start-and-stop ride.
A related problem is needless working of the steering wheel, instead of driving in a straight or smoothly curving line (depending on the shape of the road). This gives your spine a jagged zigzag ride.
Another common source is tensing of the arms, neck, and back while in a hurry or driving in rush hour traffic. This body tension can inhibit your ability to react quickly in an emergency, and the tight muscles can cause spinal dysfunction and leave you feeling fatigued.
Our recommendation: Make a conscious effort to follow these spine-friendly driving guidelines:
1) Accelerate slowly and smoothly (except when safety demands a sudden burst of speed).
2) Decelerate slowly and smoothly (except when safety demands a sudden stop).
3) Work the steering wheel as little as possible, consistent with the demands of safety.
4) If you are feeling tense take a few deep relaxing breaths. When you exhale relax your arms, neck, and upper back. Being tense won't get you there any faster!
Here’s an added benefit: spine-friendly driving incorporates major components of energy-efficient driving. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (www.eere.energy.gov/cleancities/fueleconomy/driving_tips.html), energy-efficient driving can improve your gas mileage 5-33 percent. So, spine-friendly driving can lower your expenses at the gas pump, alleviate air pollution and reduce the nation’s dependence on imported oil. You will be working on posture, prosperity and pollution control all at once!
It gets even better. Spine-friendly driving is the opposite of aggressive driving. In other words, the spine-friendly driver is at reduced risk of hurting themselves and others in an accident.
One more thing is worthy of mention. In a recent study, two groups of people were asked to move a cursor on a computer screen from one target to another as quickly and accurately as possible.
This task is called “movement time”, and is a way to study the complex combination of mental attention, reaction time and muscle control required in many everyday activities involving hand-eye coordination. After the initial testing, the people in one group received a chiropractic adjustment, and the other group simply rested.
Then, movement time was measured again. The average improvement in the group receiving the chiropractic adjustment was 9.2 percent, while it was only 1.7 percent for the control group. This difference between the two groups was statistically significant (mathematically unlikely to be the result of random chance).
While this is only one study, it adds to a growing body of literature indicating that reaction time, mental focus and muscle control tend to improve after chiropractic adjustments.
While neither of these studies directly involved driving, it is reasonable to wonder whether or not improved reaction time, mental focus and muscle control could help your effort to practice spine-friendly driving.
Why not test this idea for yourself? (Note: This do-it-yourself experiment is most likely to be valid if it has been at least two weeks since your last adjustment.) Practice these spine-friendly driving techniques from now on. During the week, before your next visit, check your gas mileage at least once or twice.
Three times gives a better average reading. Then, continue to check your mileage during the week after your adjustment. Let your chiropractor know the results.
Smith DL, Dainoff MJ, Smith JP. The effect of chiropractic adjustments on movement time: a pilot study using Fitts Law. J Manipulative Physiol Ther, 2006; 29:257-266.
Todres-Masarsky M, Masarsky CS, Langhans E. “The Somatovisceral Interface: Further Evidence.” In: Masarsky CS, Todres-Masarsky M (Editors). Somatovisceral Aspects of Chiropractic: An Evidence-Based Approach, Churchill Livingstone, New York, 2001.