Imagine driving a rig with no back, neck, shoulder, hip or leg pain after sitting for several hours and lifting heavy loads. Your first reaction might be, “Yeah right.” But there are steps you can take to alleviate discomfort and carry out a healthier and more comfortable lifestyle on the road.
We get it — operating a truck day in and out is stressful. Your body takes a beating whether you’re on the highway for 10 hours or unloading the trailer for half the shift. We’re here to help make life on the move more comfortable, healthy, convenient and safe so you can protect yourself and your investment.
What Causes Back Pain in Truckers?
It’s true that truck driving is an occupational hazard where the job associates with particular dangers. For example, 57 percent of 107 truck drivers say they have or had an ailment because of truck driving, with the most common being lower back pain. The connection between back pain and risk factors within the truck driving business are clear. Exhaustion comes from many tasks including lifting, pushing, pulling, cranking, loading, unloading and carrying heavy cargo. What’s worst of all is sitting still for long periods. Inactivity plays a massive role in creating pain.
Many truckers experience musculoskeletal pain while driving. Which means thousands of people have pain daily. The approximate number of truck drivers in the U.S. is 870,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Unfortunately, various elements can cause musculoskeletal pain such as:
- Awkward and uncomfortable sitting postures
- Body vibration
- Leaning, hunching, and rounding
- Prolonged sitting
- Poor posture
- Lack of physical fitness
When people sit for hours on end, it encourages the body to slouch. It may feel more comfortable at first, but the body then bends into a “C” shape which strains muscles and ligaments. Slouching rolls the pelvis, increasing the amount of pressure on intervertebral discs.
Hope Zvara from Mother Trucker Yoga says: “Long-term sitting with the spine in the “C-curve” position can also push the head forward into what is called kyphosis and forward head syndrome. This positioning of the head creates an imbalance where muscles on the front of the neck and chest are short and tight, and the muscles on the upper back and neck become overstretched, causing strain. This head position causes less blood flow and back pain. Sitting in the cab with poor posture can also cut vital circulation to the legs and create problems such as sciatica, tailbone issues, and hip flexor tightness. So next time you are in the driver’s seat or at your desk, sit up and fine the headrest with the back of your head, you may be surprised how far forward your head is.”
As truck drivers cruise down the highway, the truck vibrates constantly. The truck vibrations cause the entire body to shake which increases the risk of injury. Tremors skyrocket the contractions within the back muscles. The body absorbs each pulsation which can worsen on uneven and bumpy pavement.
When you add to that impact something like poor posture, your body has no way of absorbing that impact. Zvara says that “the spine is shaped like an “S” curve for a reason (think of a spring), and one of those reasons is to absorb impact. When we are in a “C” curve, there is no way for our body to even attempt to absorb that impact.”
Driving a rig for six to 10 hours each day means the driver sits in one stationary position for almost the whole ride. Muscles, joints and ligaments tend to feel stiff, and circulation becomes affected over time. Anywhere from small achy discomforts to shooting pains down the low back, ailments can last many weeks or up to several years if drivers don’t take time to perform the right treatment.
Adjusting the driving position, being more active and using a cushion are a few basics that scratch the surface of how you can improve your mental and physical well-being as a truck driver.
Main Causes of Back Pain
Truck drivers with lower back pain experience a biochemical problem within their bodies. Improper alignment of the spine stems from elements like:
- Poor posture
- Abnormal loading of the spine
- Constant vibration
- Irritated muscles, nerves, discs and joints
- Inadequate mechanics
- Lack of continuous movement
Each can lead to dysfunction and pain in one or several areas of the body. So, what causes truck driver back pain?
- Spinal compression: Sitting in a single position for an extended time can place pressure on the spinal column. As the spinal column compresses, it causes tightness in the lower and upper back muscles.
- Sciatica: Sciatica is a form of pain that travels from the lower back to the knee or foot. Often caused by a herniated disc that compresses the sciatic nerve, it can cause shooting agony down the leg. Truck drivers with sciatica may also have tight glute muscles that can put pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- Neck pain: Truck driving and lower back pain go hand-in-hand because of stress and poor posture. But tight and tender muscles also affect the thoracic and cervical sections of the spine, causing neck soreness.
- Tension headaches: Tension headaches relate to the muscles at the base of the skull. When the muscles are tight, they pinch the nerves, creating a throbbing headache.
- Shoulder irritation: Shoulder pain can be the result of overuse when managing the load, rotator cuff injuries and bicep tendonitis. Having an inflamed bicep tendon can ignite pain in the front shoulder.
Spinal compression, sciatica, neck pain and tension headaches along with shoulder conditions and lower back pain are all preventable and treatable.
How to Combat Back Pain
Now that we’ve covered where back pain and other discomforts stem from, it’s time to go over truck driver back pain prevention. How to relieve back pain in truck drivers is simple — don’t live with the agony. Carry out a few simple tasks such as:
- Improve seating
- Reduce vibrations
- Sit in the correct position
- Diminish harmful physical responsibilities and modify workloads
- Boost physical activity
- Eat healthily
- Ice on and off
- Typical Pain Relievers like pain relief cream
- Sleep with proper support
1. Maintain the Proper Driving Position
Driving with excellent posture is necessary for truck drivers with back pain. Reduce trucker back pain by implementing a few things such as:
- Bringing the seat forward with a slight recline
- Resisting the urge to slump and slouch
- Adding in simple safe movements while driving
- Adjusting your posture when possible
- Keeping the knees no higher than the hips
- Resting the shoulders against the backrest
- Holding the steering wheel at the 9 and 3-o’clock positions
- Keeping elbows close to the sides
- Driving with the legs bent at a 90-degree angle as opposed to straight out
Functioning with straight legs can cause strain on the sciatic nerve. Truck driver’s sciatica is when the sciatic nerve, which is the largest in the body, gets pinched, causing shooting pain. Hunching the body over the front of the wheel to stretch the back can make pains worse. Instead, Hope Zvara from Mother Trucker Yoga suggests arching the back to reduce pain. Try adding in a movement like Pelvic-Tilts while driving. This will increase circulation to the pelvic organs and lower extremities, reduce stiffness in the lower back hips, and help you sit taller and more alert.
Also, be aware of where your headrests. You don’t want it too far forward or backward, but right in the middle. A helpful tip in upholding healthy posture is adjusting the mirrors to where you’re aligned. It forces drivers to have a better positioning. Sustaining the best driving style is also key to a comfortable ride. Never sit on anything that can distribute weight unevenly.
Zvara suggests slightly gliding the chin in to pull your ears gently back over your shoulders. Next time you are at a rest stop, find a wall and stand up against it, notice your head and shoulders, and then try to draw your shoulders back and slide your head back and in.
2. Know If the Workload Is Too Much
Lifting cargo on and off the truck is a straining activity for the entire body. If possible, choose to work with less weight at a time and use technology and other machinery for assistance such as tightening your ratchet straps with the Good-N-Tight. Modify the workload to place less strain on muscles and joints because even basic movements like getting in and out of your truck can take a toll over time. Always think about the long-term effects of physical activity that can worsen pain.
3. Increase Physical Activity
Remaining active isn’t only related to hitting the gym after work. Truckers who experience back pain and other soreness can combat any discomforts through muscle strengthening, spinal adjustments and soft tissue therapy. Perform some form of physical activity while working. As an act of preventative care, staying active can decrease risks of injury and pain.
Trucker back pain relief can begin with exercise and flexibility training while on the road. Workout at rest stops by going for a walk, stretching or even pulling out some yoga moves. It’s vital to complete short yet impactful isometrics to remain on schedule and avoid muscle strain. Different yoga poses that will stretch sore limbs include:
- Child’s pose
- Seated or Lying Down Pigeon
- Downward facing dog
- Upward facing dog
- Forward fold
Physical activity can be stretching, jogging or walking. While walking, practice heel-to-toe steps while keeping the shoulders, neck, hips and back aligned. Stretches can consist of:
- Pelvic lifts AKA Bridge: Lie on your back with knees bent, arms straight and feet flat. Inhale and lift your back off the mattress, holding as long as possible, then lower your back.
- Knees to chest: Again, lie on your back with knees bent. Bring one leg up to the chest while the other stays flat. Hold the leg below the knee cap, pulling it toward the chest. Hold and release, then repeat with the other leg.
- Knee drops: Assume the same position as before with the knees together. Drop both knees to the right side of the body, keeping shoulders flat. Rotate the hips and return to the starting position. Continue with the other side and always remain aligned when turning.
Other stretches involve the working of the hamstrings, neck, shoulders, back hips and glutes. For the neck and shoulders, try flexion stretches while driving. Bend the head forward, lowering the chin toward the chest until you feel a stretch. To relieve lower back pain, try wrapping your body into a ball. Lie on your back, pull both knees to the chest and fold your head forward.
When it comes to hips and glutes, keep the feet hip-width apart while standing. Step back with the right foot, bend the left knee and shift your weight to the right hip. Continue leaning and reach your hand down the straight leg to feel a firm stretch.
4. Eat Healthily on the Road
If you want to live a healthy and pain-free lifestyle, you must put only the best into your body. Try to limit the amount of fast food and junk snacks during your trip. Pack a lunch from home and choose fruits and veggies as alternatives. Having healthier joints can make all the difference for truck drivers and the back pain they feel.
5. Ice the Pain Away
Low back pain and being a truck driver may go hand in hand — but only if you don’t take preventative measures. When you’re done for the day, place ice over any sore areas for 20 minutes. Ice will numb the irritated tissues and decrease damage and swelling. The cold will also slow any nerve impulses. Alternate the ice therapy that reduces inflammation with heat to keep the body relaxed.
6. Have a Good Night’s Rest
Truck driver upper back pain — or any pain for that matter — can be taken care of before drivers even hit the seat. Fight pain by getting a good night’s rest and propping yourself in the best supportive positions. Resting is a time for the back ligaments and muscles to heal themselves. Choose to sleep on a mattress that suits your particular needs and one that supports the natural curves of the spine.
Mattresses at home or in the semi-truck need to each individual’s unique requirements. After a massive haul, sitting for hours and lifting cargo, a solid rest on the right mattress can help muscles, joints and ligament repair.
And it’s not only about the mattress. The pillow makes a difference in neck and back muscles as well. Sleep with a pillow that holds your head, neck and spine in alignment, supporting your natural curves. One that’s too high can cause strain on the neck, shoulders and back, so keep everything parallel with your chest and lower back.
Extra pillows can also support your body. For back sleepers, place a pillow under the knees to reduce stress on the spine. Sleeping on your stomach creates tension on the spinal cord, often kicking the vertebral column out of position. Place a pillow under the abdomen or pelvis and have the head pillow flat. Side sleepers need firm support between the knees to prevent the upper leg from pulling on the spine. This additional care can reduce stress on the hips and lower back.
No matter how you sleep and in what position, always move the entire body instead of twisting at the hips. Tighten your stomach muscles and try to fill in as many gaps as possible between you and the mattress.