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Ergonomic Headrests? Do they exist? Oh, my aching back...

Discussion in 'E46 (1999-2006)' started by pojo1992, May 12, 2010.

    pojo1992 guest

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    Hi all! New to the forums, and wish my first post were on a happier note!

    I bought a CPO E46 ZHP a couple of years back. Absolutely love the car. Unfortunately, last year I underwent spinal fusion surgery as the result of an accident (non-driving). Since then, I just can't get comfortable with the stock headrest in this car--- no matter how I adjust it, it still pushes my head too far forward, and my neck just won't bend that way post-surgery. It's gotten so that I can't even drive the car for more than 10 minutes or so unless I completely remove the headrest (not really a great option). I'd been hoping to go to a driving school and start attending some club events, but that's on hold because I just can't be in the car that long. I had the same sort of issue with my desk chair at work--but replacing that was alot easier/cheaper than replacing the seat in the car would be!

    Anyone ever had similar issues or know if there are decent aftermarket adjustable/ergonomic headrests available? I have been looking around on the web without much luck. Alternatively, suggestions as to reasonably priced replacement seats would be apprciated as well.

    Thanks much for any advice!!
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    bcweir

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    I do have an idea, and I hope this doesn't sound flippant or insensitive.

    Sorry to hear about your neck injury.

    I do have a couple of ideas for you. I hope that one of them can be of help.

    One idea I was going to suggest was an orthopedic neck pillow. The idea here is twofold: to provide vital support to your neck while driving, while also pushing your head sufficently forward to alleviate the problem of your head conflicting with the headrest. You may need to loop one or two elastic straps around the headrest posts to keep it from falling off your neck.

    Another idea is a little more radical, but might be the solution to your problem: Acquire another headrest (used) from a scrap yard, disassemble it, then modify the center front side cushion (the side that would face your head). What you want to do is create a scallop or recess in the center to accommodate your head. A headrest from a Z3 or Z4 might also work.

    If that idea works, you can then disassemble your existing headrest then replace the stock cushion with the one you modified.

    I hope this helps.

    I am including what may appear to be a seemingly unrelated link to illustrate my idea a little more. This is just to illustrate disassembly of the headrest for modification.

    http://bmwe32.masscom.net/roland/TFT_headrest/TFT_headrest.htm
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    MGarrison

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    I think Brian may be right - your only hope of an out-of-the-box option would be for some smaller profile headrest to fit your seat. But, headrest-only swaps are about as common as hen's teeth I think, having never heard anybody else asking a similar question. Folks around here might be willing to share headrest dimensions in their cars (post spacing, diameter, post attachment design, etc.)

    Options - perhaps you could 'cushion-up' the seat upright back area far enough for your neck to be comfortable; downside: that would move you out of the seat's side bolstering and could be less secure and or safe in an accident.

    There are a variety of aftermarket seats and seat designs, the most basic likely being something completely manual, possibly starting as low as $350.00 (maybe). Obviously you'd lose whatever amenities your seat has as far as power, adjustment, heated seats, etc. in a basic seat - and prices would go up from there. There are some aftermarket seats designed with a single back/unified headrest, so those would not have separate articulating headrests.

    What has your doctor told you about your range of neck movement and the implications of that in case of being in an accident? If your neck can't bend forward, or chin-down much, perhaps that's a concern. If you want to get to a driver's school, it might be worth having that conversation with your doctor, and you might be well advised to consider a Hans device (with the appropriate harness setup, etc.) or one of the other Hans-like devices.

    I hope you can come up w/ a solution!
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    CRKrieger

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    If you're going to mess with a second headrest, just bend the posts so it sits farther back.

    Now, that's the simple outline. What it leaves out is how to bend them. I would see a metal fabricator (I know a guy who does dirt track racecars.) or someone similar who can bend it accurately (the same on both sides) and without drastically weakening it. It might take two quite gentle bends and therefore have to sit fairly high.

    Another possibility is to modify the seat internally so the headrest post channels angle farther back or if they can be moved farther back on the seat frame (some minor welding, maybe). Having no idea how yours are anchored, I don't know if this is even possible, but it's worth a look.
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    Zeichen311

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    I think you should invest a little more time on the cheapest option: Review and readjust everything about your current seating position, not just the headrest. What you describe is quite surprising unless your range of motion is constrained such that you cannot hold your head directly above your shoulders. No offense meant--I'm not saying you haven't tried, just that the seat should be able to accommodate you.

    I have an E46 sedan and with the headrest pivoted fully back, I have to tilt my head backward past vertical to touch the headrest. There is absolutely no contact or forward pressure on my head/neck. If this is not the case for you, your seat position may be comfortable/familiar but not ideal.

    Try raising the headrest as high as possible and pivot it back as far as possible--the top is naturally angled toward the front of the car. If you raise that "nose" above the center of your head you may find some relief.

    Email Mike Miller, the Roundel tech editor (techtalk@roundel.org), explain your circumstances and ask him for a copy of his seat-and-mirrors adjustment procedure. It's the first thing you're taught at a performance driving school and most people have at least part of it wrong if they've never been taught.
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    bcweir

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    I should probably clarify a few things the OP said.

    First of all, bending the support posts will likely limit or forgo completely the ability to raise or lower the headrests entirely.

    Secondly, if spinal fusion surgery has limited his neck movement, adjusting the seat position may not be of much help, as apparently the issue seems to be the headrest position relative to his neck and head. Tilting the seat forward and back may allow some limited forward and aft distance between the back of his head and the headrest, but doing so also changes the ability of the seatback to provide support for his back. Tilting the seatback angle also changes the angle of the headrest, since the headrest sits right on top of it. It's a catch-22: if he tilts the seat angle to put the necessary distance between his head and the headrest, it also forces him to change his driving posture to a potentially unsafe and unnatural driving position for his back. If he changes it to properly suit his back, he's right back where he started from with regard to the headrest position relative to the back of his head.

    The problem is that the stock headrest assembly permits only vertical up and down movement. It's not providing the means of increasing or decreasing the forward and aft distance between the front of the headrest and back of his head. There is no tilt or forward/aft motion on the headrest.

    As he said earlier, removing the headrest entirely also removes any support for his head in the event of an accident and may increase his head and neck fatigue as a result of the elimination of support.

    I still think a neck cushion or modification of the headrest cushion may provide the best option.
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    Zeichen311

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    Incorrect. Your helpful nature is appreciated but please be careful about extrapolating experience with older BMWs to newer models (that's tripped me up on occasion too). It helps people even more when opinions or uncertainties are identified as such.

    The OP has an E46 ZHP (performance package). The headrests in the E46 sport seats--included in the ZHP package--pivot to adjust the distance between the headrest and the back of one's head. Before writing my post I went out to my own E46, equipped with similar seats, to verify the range and types of adjustment. My specific recommendation reflects what I was able to achieve in the car.

    Modern seats have so many adjustments that many people find a "comfortable" position that is nowhere near optimal. Making adjustments in the wrong order makes it harder to find the best position. Without seeing the OP's seating position in the car and range of neck motion it's impossible to say whether seat adjustment alone can seal the deal--which is why I suggested obtaining an expert guide to the subject. It costs nothing but a little time to try, before exploring expensive alternatives.
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    bcweir

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    This is the problem, the way I understood it.

    Seems pretty clear to me that when he says it's pushing his head too far forward, that's self-explanatory. While the seat as designed may be "properly" centering his neck per the rest of us without the OP's surgical circumstances, it's not helpful to the OP's current situation. Even if there is a forward and aft adjustment for the headrest, there is only a limited range of forward and reverse travel, as the front and back range of movement for the headrest would be limited by the forward and backward track of the headrest, which is turn would be limited by the surface area on top of the headrest base itself.

    A "pivot" would likely be of very little help to the OP. That would only change the headrest angle to his neck and the back of his head -- it doesn't alter what the OP says is the heart of the problem -- the fact that the factory headrest pushes his head too far forward.

    Unless it's covered by his health insurance, the assistance of an orthopedic expert (the sort of professional assistance I am assume you were referring to) is not likely to come cheap. Modifying a used headrest cushion to incorporate some sort of scallop or recess in the center of the headrest would probably be cheaper -- and it would certainly directly address the problem, rather than what the OP never mentioned having a problem with -- the seat position itself.

    BMW seats are designed to accommodate most healthy individuals of different heights and body proportions. I am skeptical that BMW would have a "stock" solution (such as seat positioning) that will address the OP's relatively unique issue that the OP's neck surgery has created. BMW could not have foreseen the needs of a driver that had neck surgery designed to restrict his neck movement.

    A fairly unique problem will likely require a rather creative solution.

    Perhaps some sort of adapter bracket that would mount the headrest in a fixed position further back at the top of the seat than in the stock location would be another solution. Again, this would likely have to be fabricated from scratch.

    pojo1992 guest

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    bc is correct.

    bc is correct. The headrest does tilt forward and backwards, as well as sliding up and down. The problem is that even in the full "back" position, the headrest still pushes my head too far forward. Most people have a convex "lordosis" or curvature to their C-spine while mine is naturally flat to even slightly reversed or concave-- thus, a comfortable head/neck rest for me needs to be basically flat with the seat-- an orientation I cannot achieve with the current headrests. The amount you can push the headrest back relative to the seat is, of course, limited by the fact that it is directly attached to the seat by the posts. I have tried reversing the headrest (turning it around) as I have in my other vehicles with good results, but the construction of the ZHP headrest makes it so with that configuration the headrest is too far back and can't be pushed far enough forward to give me any support. Honestly, i would think that the posts were bent (accidentaly?) too far forward, if not for the fact that the passenger headrest is identical.

    Does anyone think the standard (i.e. non ZHP headrests) might be better, either in a normal or reversed (backwards) configuration?

    Thanks all for the thoughts, some good ideas here, and if anyone else has any please bring them on. I'll follow up with any efforts I make to correct the issue.

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