16 Tips For Truckers To Prevent Back Pain From Driving
Back pain from driving is a big problem especially for those who drive long distances for a living. So follow these 16 tips and learn how to drive more comfortably today.
Driving can be a pain at the best of times.
And I'm sure the stresses and strains of driving will be all too familiar for those of you that have to spend more than a couple of hours on the road each day.
Firstly there's the rush hour traffic that can make a 10-minute journey take an hour.
Is there anything more frustrating than not being able to get out of second gear because the roads are gridlocked?
Then you also have to share the road with a variety of idiots.
Boy racers, Sunday drivers, middle-lane hoggers, tailgaters, road rage animals....the list goes on.
How some of them managed to get through a driving test is beyond me.
On top of this you are constantly being cut-up by buses and taxis (This may just be a London problem).
Not to mention having to watch out for so many cyclists coming from all angles that you think you've taken a wrong turn and ended up at the Tour-de-France (maybe just London again).
And when you do finally reach your destination there is never anywhere to park (Ok, Ok, enough about London already!).
But while all of these things are annoying there is also another big problem from spending so much time behind the wheel.....and that is lower back pain.
Driving For A Living Increases The Risk Of Developing Back Pain
Driving for a living is a tough gig.
Long-distance lorry drivers and truckers have to withstand long, monotonous journeys while remaining alert enough to stay safe on the road.
While delivery drivers and couriers are constantly fighting through the traffic to keep to impossibly tight delivery schedules.
And then there are the bus and taxi drivers that have to put up with rude and anti-social passengers on a daily basis.
All in all driving professionally can be stressful to say the least.
But did you know that people that spend more than a couple of hours driving every day are at a higher risk of developing back, neck and shoulder pain?
More bad news!
This is because sitting down in a fixed position for a prolonged period like this is not a good thing for your back.
And when it is mixed with an awkward posture (very common when driving) and the vibrations and movements from a moving vehicle it can lead to long-term pain that can be hard to shift.
However the good news is it doesn't have to be that way.
So read on and find out what you can do to stop this pain from developing and stay comfortable on the road.
Why Is Prolonged Sitting So Bad For Your Back?
Ok, I'm going to get technical for a bit here (normal service will be resumed shortly!).
But I just want to give you an understanding of why we get pain in our backs from sitting for long periods.
Now the association between prolonged sitting and back pain has been shown in multiple scientific studies.
For instance, one study looked to improve the health of workers by reducing the amount of time they had to spend sitting during their workdays.
And after two weeks they found that simply reducing the amount of sitting led to significant reductions in back and neck pain among the workers.
Who'd have thought that something as simple as sitting down could be so damaging!
But why is that?
Well there are two reasons for this:
- When we sit our vertebrae compress which weakens our spinal discs.
- And sitting can cause tight and weakened muscles elsewhere that leads to a lack of spinal support.
Let me go through those one by one.
Firstly, your back relies on the discs in between your spinal vertebrae to provide support, facilitate movement and absorb shocks.
These discs need to expand and contract while you move as this allows them to take in the oxygen and nutrients they need to remain healthy.
However the problem is that when you are seated they become squeezed and compressed and they can't take in what they need.
This weakens them over time and makes the spine less flexible and forces the lower back to carry more of the burden.
Weakened Supporting Muscles
Secondly, sitting in the same position for too long decreases the circulation to your legs.
This also deprives your muscles of the oxygen and nutrients they need to stay strong and healthy.
Which leads to a lactic acid build up which causes tight and sore muscles especially in the hip area.
Also the 'use it or lose it' maxim holds true here.
Our bodies are meant to move around and regular movement is necessary to maintain healthy muscles and joints.
However when we sit for an extended period our hamstrings, glutes and abdominal muscles all remain unused.
These muscles are vital for supporting our spine however leaving them dormant like this only weakens them.
And this combined result of tight hips added to weakened abs, glutes and hamstrings not only leads to a lack of spinal support, it can also create muscle imbalances which can pull your spine out of alignment.
Which can lead to posture problems which puts your lower back under even more pressure.
And will only cause you more pain.
So as you can see, sitting down for too long is just not a good idea!
However while prolonged sitting is bad enough, prolonged sitting while driving is even worse!
There's A Reason Why The Beach Boys Sang About 'Good Vibrations' And Not 'Whole Body Vibrations'
Yes, I realise that the words wouldn't have fitted!
But unlike good vibrations which are joyous things, whole body vibrations can be deeply damaging.
Now anyone who has used a pneumatic drill for a day or two will know the physical effects on the body that the vibrations from it can cause.
Sometimes you can still feel the tremors hours after you've finished using it.
And when you are driving your body is exposed to these vibrations too.
Every time you speed up, slow down, turn a corner, or are simply cruising along with the engine purring, your body is absorbing vibrations.
And these vibrations increase the pressure even further on your discs, which are already compressed from the prolonged sitting.
Which is bad news for your back.
For example, one study found that prolonged sitting and whole body vibrations were among the biggest factors associated with developing back pain.
In fact, a review of 25 studies looking at the association between prolonged sitting and occupational lower back pain found that people exposed to whole body vibrations were 4 times more likely to develop lower back pain!
So for those who drive for a living, developing lower back pain is a big danger.
And while for car drivers these vibrations are bad enough.
For HGV, truck, bus and lorry drivers they are even worse, as they are exposed to far higher levels of jolting and whole body vibrations during their working day.
And this can cause serious problems.
For instance, in one study, truckers were been found to be significantly more likely to develop back and neck pain than people who had to sit in offices each day.
And they were also more likely to suffer from stress, heart disease, stomach problems and fatigue.
A real treasure chest of bad news!
And government statistics don't make for pleasant reading either.
According to the Bureau Of Labor Statistics for 2015, in America 298 out of every 10,000 heavy and tractor trailer truck drivers suffered a musculoskeletal injury or illness at work that caused them to take days off work to recover.
The average across all industries in the private sector was only 93.9 out of every 10,000 people.
So the truckers had 3 times as many workplace injuries to deal with than everyone else!
However don't despair.
Because while these numbers are depressing there are ways to minimise the risk of developing back pain while driving.
Even if you have to drive a truck or lorry every day.
16 Tips To Eliminate Back Pain While Driving
Ok, so now I've told you the bad news it's time to reveal the good news.
Driving doesn't have to lead to back, neck or shoulder pain.
Try to implement the following tips into your daily routine and you could be driving along carefree (and pain-free) in no time.
And you could also check out these gift ideas for truck drivers that can also help to keep them fit, healthy, and happy on the road.
1. Make Sure Your Vehicle Is Optimised And Road Worthy
This is important for safety on the road in general!
But there are also things you can do to get a smoother ride out of your vehicle and minimise the vibrations you experience.
For instance, investing in better tyres and making sure they are at the right pressure will help your vehicle grip the road better.
Also, good shock absorbers will reduce the amount of bouncing and jolting you feel.
And power steering will reduce the stress on your back and shoulders.
Now I know you have more control over this when the vehicle is your own.
But if you drive for a living it's worth speaking to your company/boss about this.
As keeping their employees on the road and out of pain is surely just as much in their interests as it is in yours.
2. Don't Sit Too Far Away From The Steering Wheel
People have a tendency to do this when they are driving.
The problem is that doing so leads to an awkward driving posture that places more stress on your neck and lower back.
And when you hold a bad posture for an extended length of time, back pain while driving becomes inevitable.
So how can you tell if you're at the right distance away from the steering wheel?
One way to test yourself is to reach out and see if you can rest your wrists on top of the steering wheel.
If you can do this then you can keep a bend in your arms as you drive and not be overstretching,
So if you can't, move your seat closer!
Also your feet should be able to reach the pedals comfortably while keeping a slight bend in your knee.
The reason for this is that when sitting we use our feet to stabilise us and take pressure off of our backs by placing them flat on the floor.
If you can't do this when driving then the load increases on your lower back.
Now of course you need to use your feet when driving.
But by sitting closer to the wheel you can gain more stability for your spine.
And if you have the option to drive an automatic rather than manual vehicle and thus get rid of the need for changing gears, all the better!
For further info on how to make sure you are sitting correctly check out the video below from the Healthy Trucker.
3. Make Sure The Steering Wheel Is Positioned Centrally
This one is important and lots of vehicles nowadays allow you to adjust the position of the wheel.
The reason is that even if you twist only slightly to one side to hold an off-centre steering wheel while driving, it will force you out of alignment and into an awkward posture.
And over time this will cause you back pain while driving no matter how minor the twist.
4. Keep Both Hands On The Wheel
I'm as guilty as anyone for not doing this!
It's so easy to get into bad habits such as holding the wheel with one hand while the other roams free with your elbow resting out of the open window.
However holding this position for hours at a time can cause you to slouch to one side, leading to stiffness and pain in your back, neck and shoulders.
You need to remain symmetrical and aligned.
And holding the wheel at the 9 and 3 positions (or even the 8 and 4 positions) is now considered to be the best practice when driving.
This overrides the previous advice of keeping your hands at the 10 and 2 positions for two reasons.
Firstly, with the installation of airbags in modern vehicles, holding the wheel in this position can prove dangerous in an accident.
As the airbag deploys with such force it can fling your arms and hands back into you if they are in this position.
Which has been the cause of many RTA deaths as well as broken fingers, arms, hands and noses.
And secondly, the invention of power steering has meant you no longer need the added leverage of holding the wheel at this angle to turn.
However keeping your hands at 9 and 3 will keep you safe if the airbag deploys and also will ensure you keep the symmetry which helps you to stay aligned and pain-free on your journey.
5. Adjust Your Mirrors Correctly
It's easy to overlook how often you need to check your mirrors while driving.
And if you have to adjust your body or neck to get the best view each time, you are not doing your back any favours.
So your mirrors should be positioned in such a way that you don't have to strain your neck to check them as you drive.
This will reduce the chance of developing a repetitive strain injury in your neck from driving every day.
6. Use A Cushion To Support Your Lower Back
Most car and truck seats are not equipped to provide the right amount of lumbar support as you drive.
Sometimes the seats are too low which leaves you straining to get the best view of the road.
And some are fitted with seats that don't support the curvature of the spine well enough.
Which forces you to slouch or adopt an uncomfortable posture as you drive.
However you can buy lumbar support cushions to either sit on to raise your position, or to place between your lower back and the seat to give you the right support and help you to maintain the correct posture.
So what is the correct sitting posture?
When sitting you should be aiming to maintain an S-shaped bend in the spine rather than a C-shaped bend.
So if driving is something you spend a lot of time doing, buying a lumbar support cushion is a sound idea.
And there are some great ones on the market these days such as the ComfiLife Lumbar Support Cushion.
However when buying a lumbar support cushion just make sure that it will fit in your car as some seats may not be compatible.
7. Don't Put Your Wallet Or Phone In Your Back Pocket
This is good advice for sitting in general, not only when driving.
It's amazing that something so simple can be the cause of such a big problem.
But sitting down with your wallet or phone in your back pocket will cause your hips to shift out of position, which will lead to your spine being out of alignment.
And over the course of a long drive this is going to become a problem.
And the fatter the wallet, the more of a problem this becomes.
So plumbers especially, take note!
8. Use A Heating Pad
Using a heating pad on your lower back can be a good option to keep you pain-free on long drives.
The heat will work to keep your muscles relaxed and help to prevent any cramps or spasms.
And on top of that the heat will feel nice and comforting.
Now that might not sound important, but by relaxing your mind you will also be keeping stress to a minimum.
And less stress = less pain.
The Thermacare heat wraps work well for this purpose.
9. Practice Small Movements As You Drive
As I've mentioned already, holding your body in the same position for too long is bad news.
It causes tension to build up and your muscles to stiffen and weaken.
And this can be a big cause of back pain while driving.
So as you drive try to incorporate little movements and shifts every 15 minutes or so to keep your body awake and active.
Even a slight movement can release some of the tension that's built up.
So roll your shoulders back and forwards.
Shift your neck from side to side.
Rotate your pelvis backwards and forwards, side-to-side.
Have a stretch and a yawn.
Obviously only do all these things when it's safe to do so!
But it can be a big help for your back on a long drive.
10. Take Regular Breaks
I know it can be hard to take breaks when you have a tight schedule and a boss or customers ready to go on the warpath if you turn up late.
But driving non-stop for hours at a time is one of the worst things you can do for your back.
The highway code recommend taking a 15-minute break for every 2 hours of driving, and I'd recommend that too.
11. Make Sure You Move Around When You Do Take A Break
When you do stop for your 15 minutes use them wisely!
After a stint of driving it's important to get your body moving around and your muscles loosening and working again.
So walk around. Gently stretch your neck and shoulders. Gently stretch your hips and hamstrings.
This will release muscle tension and set you up for your next stint on the road.
However be careful not to overstretch yourself at this point as your muscles will have become less flexible and more sensitive after a long drive.
12. Be Careful When Loading/Unloading Your Vehicle
Following on from the previous point, your muscles will be more sensitive after a prolonged period of time spent sitting or driving.
So be careful not to overdo things and strain yourself when loading or unloading your vehicle.
And make sure you are following safe lifting and manual handling guidelines, as so many injuries for truck and delivery drivers occur during unloading.
Also be careful how you get out of your vehicle.
No awkward twists, sharp movements and definitely no jumping down from your rig!
13. Control Your Stress Levels
I mentioned in the intro how driving can be a stressful experience.
However when we get stressed our muscles become tenser.
Which only makes our back pain while driving worse.
So it's really important to try and stay relaxed.
Even if you have a boss screaming at you, get stuck in a traffic jam, or are running out of time to get where you need to go, try and find a happy place.
Because getting stressed, angry or anxious will only make things worse!
14. Divert Your Attention Away From The Pain
Distraction is a great pain management tactic.
This is because our brains are restricted by a limited capacity to take in what is going on around us.
We are bombarded by sounds, sights, smells and other stimuli every second of our lives and it is far too much for us to be able to take in and process.
So the brain has to adapt to allow us to function.
It automatically prioritises what we focus on by selecting what it considers to be the most important stuff to bring to your attention, while ignoring everything else.
And unfortunately for those of us with chronic pain, our brains will usually give the sensation of pain top priority!
However if you can divert the brain to focus on something else instead, then you can block these pain signals from getting to your brain.
This is because if you consciously fill your brain with things it needs to concentrate on and process, then it will not have enough capacity left over to also be able to listen to the pain signals it is getting from your back.
So on long drives try and occupy your brain (as much as is safe to do so!).
Listen to your favourite music, or talk radio, or buy a few audiobooks to work your way through.
Diverting your brain away from your back pain while driving will help you drive more comfortably, and will probably make long drives feel shorter too.
15. Keep Yourself Active Outside Work
Staying active is the key to managing back pain.
Our bodies were designed to move, and it is through exercise and movement that we can stay fit, strong and healthy.
And this has been shown again and again in scientific studies.
For instance one such study found that exercising to a moderate intensity for 30 minutes, 4-5 times per week helped reduce pain and improve the moods of people with chronic pain.
Activities such as walking, swimming, yoga, stretching and pilates among others will strengthen your core, increase your flexibility, give you a better range of motion and make your back stronger and more capable of withstanding punishing drives.
Also there is a good video from the Healthy Back Institute below which includes 3 simple exercises that will specifically help you if you spend a lot of time driving.
16. Get A Good Night's Sleep
I know this one can be difficult, as people with chronic back pain are highly likely to suffer from insomnia.
Also it can be hard to get a good sleep if you have to sleep out overnight in your cab.
But sleeping well is vital in keeping back pain at bay.
As it is during sleep that the body repairs and recuperates.
And this is even more vital if your back is taking a daily hammering from long drives.
So do all you can to adopt a regular sleep pattern and get plenty of rest.
I hope that you found these tips useful.
After all, driving is stressful enough.
And even more so if you do it for a living.
However not only is it stressful, drivers are also at risk of developing back, neck and shoulder pain.
And back pain while driving is torturous if you have to endure it every day of your working life.
This pain happens for a number of reasons.
When you sit in the same position for an extended period of time your spine compresses and circulation to your legs is restricted.
This leads to a weakening and stiffening in your spinal discs as well as your hips, glutes, abs and hamstrings.
And the result of this are muscle imbalances that lead to a less flexible spine and an increased load being carried by the lower back.
Also the whole body vibrations you get from driving only magnify this problem by adding even more pressure onto your spine.
However driving doesn't have to result in back pain.
By following some (or all) of the 16 tips I've included in this article, you could be on the road to making back pain while driving a thing of the past.
Let me know in the comments section if this advice has helped you to eliminate back pain while driving or if you have any other tips to add.
And stay safe and happy on the road.