Truckers spend much more time behind the wheel in seats that don’t support their backs sufficiently.
The average person has at least six significant backaches in a lifetime, and most are selflimiting. Some need treatment by a doctor, but most don’t. Truck drivers, however, are above average in many ways, including backaches. In fact, many experience daily backaches, especially when they’ve been on the road for extended periods of time.
What causes these increased problems among truckers versus everyday four wheelers? The obvious answer is truckers spend much more time behind the wheel in seats that don’t support their backs sufficiently. Of course, people develop back pain in many other ways. Following are five examples and six possible remedies that may help you.
Back Pain Examples
- If you were like me when I was young, you were indestructible. I didn’t give a second thought to jumping off objects that were as high as three feet or, quite often, even higher. Some truckers tell me stories of swinging from trees and diving 20 plus feet into lakes. Some recount their military experience, including all kinds of workouts that involved jumping to the ground from 15-20 feet. Many truckers describe leaping out of their trucks at truck stops, holding onto the left-side safety bar, and never touching the steps. This dismount is common among young men and women drivers and only stops when they hurt their backs or other joints are affected by this kind of freefall. Every jump or fall causes microscopic tears in the fibrous tissue that encloses the disc (nucleus pulposus) until the disc ruptures, which causes pressure on the nerve root creating pain that can radiate down the leg in a pattern called a dermatome. These ruptures can lead to surgery, if not promptly addressed.
- Age and weight gain-drivers typically gain an average of 12 pounds a year-amplify the effects of gravity on the joints. Normally, gravity is our friend. It keeps us from floating off into space. Unfortunately, gravity is the enemy of your joints when combined with steadily increasing weight. This combination causes degeneration of the lumbar vertebrae (DJD), knees, and shoulders.
- Repetitive twisting motions while lifting anything over 20 pounds begin to stretch and torque the vertebrae at 13 down to Sl (lumbar vertebrae3 & sacral vetabrael) and occasionally L1 and 12, but less likely. These motions can lead to bone degeneration as a driver ages, causing chronic pain and stiffening with twisting.
- Inactivity, including sitting at a desk and behind the wheel of a truck, has the same destructive capacity on the lumbar spine and mobility and grows worse with age. Inactivity causes muscle wasting and loss of supporting muscles surrounding the spine. Most upper body support comes from the abdominal (core) muscles and some from the muscles of the lower back.
- Poor posture is caused by all the above, as well as poor ergonomic design of truck seats and chairs. Symptoms are painful when getting up and down.
Possible Back Pain Remedies
- Stay young (unfortunately not possible for us Earthlings). What you can do is avoid jumping off anything over three feet high and never jump out of a truck. Use the steps and 3-point contact getting in and out. This also helps prevent twisting. Stiffness may be your first sign of problems to come. See posture below.
- Premature aging of the spine can, to a large degree, be minimized. You can’t get fat and expect to feel good. Weight loss is a topic for a separate article. Suffice to say, start by drinking more water and taking in less sugar. If you choose to avoid weight loss, alternatives include moving to the moon or becoming a permanent astronaut. Hanging upside down has been tried, and in a very few cases, helps some, but many get hurt trying to get off an inversion machine.
- Repetitive twisting while lifting is preventable by moving your feet. Don’t be lazy about this! Technique is everything. Also, assume the “power position” for lifting, bend your knees not your back. This, like dieting, is a topic for another day, but abundant safety information on proper technique is available.
- When you get out of your truck, walk. When you’re not walking, plan your next walk. Remember, people who walk-and walk fast-live longer and look and feel younger.
- Poor posture is fixable. Good posture can help with stiffness and low back pain. I use my seat heater (even in the summer). Sometimes, I’ll ice my back first, if there is an event that caused my pain. Icing decreases swelling around the nerve roots, and one or two applications followed by heat is very refreshing. However, heat can be used anytime, especially if ice is not available and there hasn’t been an identifiable injury event. Heat increases the blood flow to the muscle and helps relax the tissues around the sore area.
- The last suggestion is going to make me sound a little like a salesman (honorable profession, but not for me). When I find something that works for me, and I think truckers can also benefit, I’m going to tell you loud and clear. Recently I ran across a seat back-support device at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas. It’s called “BackShield.” I was skeptical at first, but I asked the company to send me a sample, so I could give it a try. I have residual back problems from jumping out of Sikorsky UH34D helicopters, when I was a Marine Corpsman in Vietnam (young and indestructable). As of this writing, I’ve used it 100% of the time for about a month. Does it work? All I can tell you is my BackShield® is always with me, now a permanent fixture in my car. For me, it has been a miracle. I was also happy to learn the company will be donating to the St. Christopher Truckers Relief Fund.
Remember if it is going to hurt, don’t do it. If you stop, walk. If it’s sweet, don’t eat it!
Dr. John McElligott, Dr. John’s Medical Solutions