Uncomfortable car seats are bad for your health, new research claims

Published 08 October 2019

Uncomfortable car seats are making drivers ill and costing the NHS almost £200 million a year in GP appointments and hospital visits. 

A survey by Volvo found that poorly adjusted or bad quality car seats are one of the key causes of back pain in the UK, with nearly a third of drivers saying it had forced them to see a doctor or physiotherapist over the past year.

>>> Baby & Child Car Seats: Use our Child Seat Chooser to find the perfect fit for your car

Volvo spoke to 2000 drivers and found that 12 per cent had taken up to two days off work for back pain from poor car seats over the past 12 months, while 13 per cent were forced to take up to four days of sick leave. Five per cent said they had to have a full working week off, while another five per cent asked for seven or more days of rest.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 68 per cent of the 32.4 million people employed in the UK use their car to travel to work and Volvo's research suggests that back pain caused by car seats could cost the UK economy up to £8.8 billion every year in lost productivity.

What's more, with the average cost of a GP visit to the NHS being £30, it's claimed that car-related back problems cost the NHS £191.94 million in GP appointments and hospital visits every year. 

How to get the perfect driving position

  • The back of the seat should be reclined slightly, so that it feels natural and your elbows should be at a comfortable and relaxed angle for driving.
  • Once you have adjusted your seat correctly, your hands should fall naturally on the steering wheel, with just a slight bend in the arms.
  • Set mirror positions to suit you - they should allow you to see all around the car with the movement of your eyes with minimal head movement.
  • Your seatbelt should always lie across the top of your shoulder and never rub against your neck or fall onto the top of your arm.
  • Read the vehicle handbook - many people don't know the full extent of the adjustments available in their own car. 


Rob Whitmarsh    on 10 October 2019

Some years ago, I had quite serious back pain. My GP recommended I make an appointment with the man who'd helped with his own back problems. When I saw him, the man was amazing, a fully qualified Osteopath. It took a few sessions, but he more or less cured me. The Osteopath told me that whenever he had a new client, he watched them when they arrived, and when they left his practice, he wanted to see how they got out of, and back into their cars. He said that a prime cause of back problems was drivers twisting as they got into and out of their car seats. The correct way is to lower yourself onto the seat, then to swivel your whole body, drawing your legs in as you do it. This is of course a simplified solution to a complicated problem, but my saviour was certain that it helped the vast majority of his clients with back problems, they were damaging their spines in a way that can often be repaired.

Johnno431    on 14 October 2019

I agree Rob a good osteopath is in valuable to relieve back pain but so is the choice of car imo. My back pain started soon after I bought an Audi Allroad which caused me to swivel slightly on entry and the osteopath who treated me remarked on how I got in and out of the car. On her suggestion I rented an SUV for a week and the different ride height made a massive difference to my entry/exit posture - and my back pain was greatly reduced.
As a result I read up on car seats and found that Volvo were praised for their comfort so I bought an XC60 and haven’t seen the osteopath since.

Alex Grieve    on 14 October 2019

As a doctor working in industry, I saw many folks who complained of aches and pains while driving. Some just didn't like their company car and wanted a change. Most were just genuinely uncomfortable.
Regardless of the type of car, it was always possible to find them a comfortable seat position. The commonest successful adjustment was to recline the seat back by a further 10-15 degrees. Cars with offset pedals are the most awkward, and they are not always the less expensive cars.

Vivien Barber    on 15 October 2019

Yes, osteopaths are wonderful! But I keep my ten-year old Audi A3, since the seat is the most comfortable I've ever had!

I did my back in badly recently, and an osteopath demonstrated the movement which had caused it - exactly what I do to get out of my partner's MX5 up on to a kerb. It's that unnatural movement of getting out of a car with legs bent too much at the knee. If travelling in it now, he lets me out on to the road and then pulls up to the kerb.

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