Back Pain - Driving While Tall
May 9, 2019 2:05 PM   Subscribe

My son (age 21) makes a lot of short trips for his pizza delivery job. He feels like the driver's seat in his Subaru is exacerbating his back pain.

Here's the deal:
He's driving a 2008 Subaru Outback, L.L. Bean Edition. He's 6'2" and has slouched for years. He says the car seat doesn't support his back and curves forward at an awkward place. His lower and mid back hurt while he's driving and (lately) other times as well. Seems like the pain has been escalating over time.
What we've tried:
Adjusting the seat based on the advice of the physical therapist; after-market lumbar cushion; new chair for his desk at home. The lumbar cushion was not tall enough, he thought, and possibly not thick enough.
He's seen an orthopedist, has had X-rays to rule out anything spinally exceptional, and has now seen a physical therapist twice for exercises, which he seems to be doing.

If you are of similar height and have experienced a similar problem, what did you do that helped? Bonus question: How long did it take to start feeling better?
posted by tuesdayschild to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
yep. our whole family had problems with our old subaru outback. I forget the year. we used lumbar cushions. and eventually got rid of the car. we are all tall.
posted by evilmonk at 2:19 PM on May 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm not tall but I find most car seats uncomfortable. How about making a custom lumbar cushion? Just take an old towel or two and make a loose roll out of them, let him squish it into shape until it's comfortable, then carefully use a needle and thread to get it to retain the general shape which works for him. If nothing else, if he can find a shape that helps it could be used as a model for a medically-made or upholsterer-made custom cushion.

An important question would seem to be: does he find the new desk chair comfortable? If so it might be instructive to examine the difference in shapes between that and the car seat.

A friend of mine who is extremely tall sometimes has the seats of his cars moved back and re-welded at a point that gives him more leg room but if it's the seat itself your son finds uncomfortable, that probably isn't the road to go down.
posted by XMLicious at 2:24 PM on May 9, 2019

I'm the same height and while my old Subaru(a '99) had adjustable lumbar and fit, my previous job had a newer one which did not and had this exact issue. The seat was just literally shaped for a much shorter person and hideously uncomfortable on me.

My current car also has this same issue and i had serious back pain issues when i was driving all day for work in it, day in and day out. I developed a godawful subconscious slouch to try and line my back up with that bump, or get it to hit it at a different angle. It's absolutely miserable and my only advice would be to swap the seats from a higher trim, older, or newer outback with adjustable lumbar seats(or possibly aftermarket seats)

This is now a close to #1 shopping item for my next car, and it's one of the reasons i'm about to get rid of the one i have.
posted by emptythought at 4:08 PM on May 9, 2019

Am a 6'3" guy in an 09 Legacy, same body style. It's just too small. I have to hunch over too.
posted by sanka at 5:41 PM on May 9, 2019

My very tall friend uses a mesh lumbar support he bought at Walgreens, as pillows often compress too much over time and can be hot (especially memory foam ones)
posted by ananci at 5:46 PM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

2010 Forrester. 6' 3"ish. Headrest slightly down, I balance the center of mass of the back of my head against it. Seat all the way back, brought up maybe a half an inch, seat down low, raise front end to rest legs on it - hence why I have to bring the seat forward slightly.

I love my Subaru.
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:37 PM on May 9, 2019

My new-to-me 2011 Outback has relieved the back pain that my clapped-out 2005 Camry caused for over a decade. (I am 6'1" myself.)

I switched cars last summer when I got the Subaru; that was several months into PT for a torn rotator cuff. What really helped was making an effort to improve my posture when sitting, both at my desk at work and in the car. The exercises were good, but my therapist and I agreed that my posture suuuuucks -- and sitting up straighter at work combined with the better posture in the Subaru has reduced my back pain A LOT.

So I am sympathetic, and it's not his imagination!
posted by wenestvedt at 7:24 PM on May 9, 2019

6'. Don't like ms. flabdablet's Subaru Forester, and didn't like her previous Outback; always need to lay the backrest one notch further back than it ought to be for good posture in order to prevent ramming my head into the ceiling.

what did you do that helped?

I make sure most of my driving is done in a car that supports my spine without ramming my head into the ceiling.
posted by flabdablet at 1:42 AM on May 10, 2019

Just switched from a 2009 Outback (3rd gen) to a newish Camry. Good lord my back feels better driving now, after only one week of switching. The 3rd generation Outbacks IMHO have terrible seating and are only kind-of tolerable for people under 6 feet.
posted by benzenedream at 2:01 AM on May 10, 2019

I'm 6-1 and started having hamstring pain after lots of long drives. I used something like this:

Over time, it worked well. The problem is having your knees higher than your hips, so getting that booster seat in there did wonders.

I do not seem to have the same problem in my 2019 Outback. My previous was a 2011 Outback.
posted by rich at 7:48 AM on May 10, 2019

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