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How to Care for your Low Back While Maintaining a Trucker's Lifestyle

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics truck drivers are more likely to suffer back injuries more than any other occupation. It's no secret that sitting for long periods of time can cause a whole slew of low back problems. 

Among all occupations
, tractor-trailer truck drivers also ranked No. 3 on the list of workers suffering from musculoskeletal disorders (injuries or disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, or spinal discs) that required days off from work in 2014. Overexertion, including repeatedly getting in and out of the truck and assisting with loading and unloading, and prolonged sitting and maintaining the same position (sometimes with poor posture) while driving the truck, are all causes.

And when truck drivers get hurt on the job it takes them longer to recover. Half of all truck drivers required at least 20 days away from work after an incident before returning, compared with all other occupations in which half of all workers returned to work within nine days. Among tractor-trailer truck drivers who had to take days off work due to being injured, 42 percent missed more than a month (31 or more days) of work.

But the good news is there are some very simple solutions to combat this issue. 

Let's start with your seating. When dealing with the Semi-Truck Lifestyle not all truck seats are created equal. Odds are, you are riding around in a non-ergonomic seat. The front of the seat may be a bit higher than the back. This is a big contributor to low back pain. However, there are many no-fuss adjustments that you can make to your seat. Some of the options include a specialized cushion placed over the seat that elevates your hips or a Tempurpedic cushion that can be placed behind the back.   

These options however, can be pricey and way out of budget. So here's a little insider tip....use a rolled up blanket. Roll the blanket to fit your body and preference, place the blanket under your hips. Voila! By elevating your hips you are forcing the pelvis to tilt forward, taking the pressure off the low back while supporting your torso at the same time. This also helps to promote body alignment and better posture.

The same goes for the expensive cushions placed between the upper back and the back of the seat. Granted blankets, are bulky and may slide around. So instead of a blanket, try a firm travel pillow or a mini yoga bolster. These options are awkward at first, but the difference will be noticed right away. 

Unfortunately, modifying your seat is only part of the battle. To make the most impact on your low back pain, we depend upon exercise. The exercise doesn't have to be anything extreme. Absolutely no lifting required. You do enough of that on a daily basis, so now we need to counter that lifting. 

Before we move on to how to help the back, first we need to understand the cause of the back pain. With the exception of injury, disc issues etc.. low back pain is RARELY caused by your back. Studies have proven that the cause of your low back pain may in fact be caused by your hips. When your hips are tight, they pull down on your low back muscles causing pain and discomfort. In the following exercises, when referencing hips, we aren't simply discussing your hind regions. The term hips, will refer to anything above the knees up to the low back. Once we are able to release these areas, you should see a dramatic improvement in your low back pain.

Before starting these exercises a few precautions should be taken. Even though these are very gentle exercises, it's always best to check with your physician.

Here are a few simple exercises to encourage proper low back health:

  • Forward folds. The key to a good forward fold is centering your weight. Instinct will tell you to shift the hips back. However, this is counter productive. You should center your weight directly over your feet. You will notice when you do this, the stretch moves from your back to your hamstrings. At first your knees may be bent. That's fine, but gradually work your way into straightening the knees. Hold this position for at least 30 seconds. Then lift your back half way up to a flat back. Keeping your weight centered. Wait 30 seconds, then forward fold. You may repeat this as many times as you would like.
  • When standing, always engage your core. Bring your belly button into the spine and tuck the pelvis. This forces the low back to engage, strengthen and stretch.
  • When standing or sitting, roll your thighs towards each other. With the understanding that the majority of truck drivers are male, your initial thought is probably something to the effect of , "guys don't sit like that". So, let's think of this another way.... throughout time, men have sat slouched with their legs apart. Women on the other hand have been told to sit up straight, keep your knees together etc... What's the difference in outcome? A man is more likely to go down in his back than a woman. Coincidence? No.
  • Squats. These can be done anywhere, even while filling your tank. There is no need to drop all the way to the ground. All you need to do is take a big step back with your right foot. Your left knee will bend. Roll the thighs towards each other, scoop the pelvis. Hold here for at least 30 seconds. The switch sides. Repeat as necessary.
  • Spinal twists. You can do these sitting, standing or lying down. The most comfortable of course, is lying down. Preferably first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed. Bring your knees into your chest. Take a deep breath, let your palms fall to a T-shape, and let your knees drop to the right side of the room, turn your gaze to the left. Hold minimum of 30 seconds, up to 5 minutes. Bring your knees into chest, and repeat with other side.  

Try these minor adjustments for at least a week and you will soon see a big difference in your posture, your low back discomfort and overall feeling of well-being. 

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