A retired friend of mine collects vintage race cars- and drives them himself. He called me the other day to come and visit him and help him with a recurring shoulder ache that always seemed to follow all of his driving expeditions.
When I arrived he had his head under the hood of a fully restored 1966 Mustang. When I asked him to get into the car to show me how he drove and what he did with his body while driving, he happily obliged. He started talking about the latest trip, and I saw the problem. I saw the same problem I see every day for drivers, and that is drivers are unaware that their shoulders tighten up while driving.
Most people don’t realize that they tighten up their shoulders the moment their hands go onto the steering wheel. And most of us don’t realize the simple truth that if you start driving with tight shoulders and you don’t relax them, they will become tighter as the trip continues. (In my friend’s case, his right shoulder really tightened up the moment he grabbed the stick shift!)
So what we end up with is this: The majority of drivers on the roads today have tight shoulders. The older the driver is, stereotypically the tighter the shoulders. The tighter the shoulders the less the drivers head is able to turn and look safely. The less the driver is able to see the rear view mirror. The more likely that driver will develop shoulder aches and pains (like my friend). The more shallow the breathing, making the driver more tired, and the list goes on. From back aches to headaches, driving while under the influence of tight shoulders is a big problem! Let’s see if the Wizard can fix it.
Here’s a few wonderful ideas that I tell my clientele who are going on long trips about relaxing the shoulders before driving. Please do these (below) safely before driving, not while going down the freeway! This is a fun list designed to make you think about your shoulders so you can do something about it. Please mix this up and adjust this to your needs.
- Sit up tall in your car, breathe deeply, and relax your shoulders. Do this by moving the shoulders around a little, and then let them feel heavy.
- When driving, place both hands on the steering wheel at or around the ten o’clock and the two o’clock position, holding yourself up with a tall posture. Yawn and stretch up a little, lifting yourself up tall from the center of your back. Holding your back up is the ONLY way to get the shoulders to relax while driving. If you slump, your shoulders will tighten up to hold your body up, your neck will tighten up, too, and you’ll lose your range of motion in your neck. This means you won’t be able to turn your head to see who’s coming from behind you. Then the rest of the body will be in the wrong position.
- Do this repeatedly during the trip. Lift up tall with the entire body, consciously keeping the shoulders relaxed.
- My favorite trick to make sure I am sitting up tall with relaxed shoulders? I use the rear view mirror to help: Before I begin driving, I look into the rear view mirror and see where the reflection of the road and back of my car window is. Then later when I use the mirror, if the position of the rear window has changed, or if now I can only see the inside of the cars roof, I know I have sunk downward. So I simply relax and lift up tall again.
So please become conscious of relaxing your shoulders while driving. This simple act can put your body in the right position and really help you, your driving skills, and keep you safe. It’s a simple but important reminder: Relax your Shoulders While Driving!
John Paul Ouvrier, is a fitness trainer who specializes in working with older adults. He is the author of ‘The Wizard of Youth’ series for adults and children, the creator of ‘The Wizard of Youth 4 Kids Board Game’ and the Executive Director of Fitness For Charity. His websites are: http://wizardofyouth.com and http://fitness4charity.org He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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