Problem-solving stretches: Prevent driving headaches by changing your hand position

  • When we hold the wheel at the top, our neck and shoulder muscles have to hold the weight of our extended arms. This increases tension in these muscles, a primary cause of headaches. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • With hands lower on the wheel, you can drive with elbows in, easing neck and shoulder strain. Simple low back support, like a throw pillow or rolled hand towel, helps center or shoulders over hips for a more comfortable ride. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

For the Gazette
Published: 11/19/2019 9:45:30 AM

Thanksgiving is notorious as the busiest car travel holiday. The headaches of traffic snarls can be as emblematic of the holiday as cranberry sauce. Most people can be grateful to experience traffic headaches only figuratively. For some, however, almost any drive can bring on actual headaches that range from distracting to debilitating. Thankfully, there are some simple posture fixes to help take the headaches out of driving, at least the physical ones.

Chances are, you were taught to drive holding the steering wheel at 10 and 2 o’clock. For safety’s sake, those times have shifted. Currently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends placing your hands at 9 and 3 o’clock. While NHTSA is mainly concerned about control, and the dangers of airbags forcing your hands into your face, their advice works well for comfort as well as safety. Lowering your hands on the wheel allows you to bring elbows in toward your sides, opening your chest and easing the strain on your shoulder and neck muscles.

Jennifer Banker 37, of Wilbraham, an educator and mom of two young children, has suffered from tension headaches for her entire life. Driving used to be one of the biggest triggers for her headaches. Once she made a simple shift in her hand placement on the wheel, Jen’s driving headaches went away. “This totally works,” Banker said. “When I started holding my hands lower on the steering wheel, my headaches stopped. Now, if I’m caught in traffic and feel a headache coming on, I check my hand position. Usually, they’ve crept back up to 10 and 2 out of habit. I move them down again and my headache goes away.”

Whether you’re behind the wheel to go over the river and through the woods or to go over the bridge for your pre-feast errands, these simple position shifts can help make your commute less of a headache. And for that, we can all be thankful.

Pain Specialist Ginny Hamilton studied Integrated Positional Therapy (IPT) with its founder, Lee Albert at the Kripalu Center in Lenox, MA. A certified yoga instructor and Reiki Master Teacher, Hamilton offers classes and private sessions in Amherst, Hadley, and South Hadley. Contact her at
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