Author: Dr. David Thorpe
Truck driver health has always been an issue given the nature of the job. Despite the fact that truck drivers suffer many similar conditions common in the general population (heart disease and diabetes for example), they suffer these conditions more frequently and with greater severity. The question one might ask is why? Many possible causes can be identified from dietary concerns, stress, the physical demands of driving a truck and more. One common issue that leads to a higher incidence of chronic medical problems, common to all types of professional drivers is prolonged sitting.
The effects of prolonged sitting are considerable and most drivers are not aware of how just “sitting” for so long could lead to a number of diseases and other medical problems that can affect their ability to stay healthy and on the road making a living! I know, many people think that sitting for long periods of time is not stressful. That a person, whether they be a truck driver or anyone else who sits all day, could possibly have more problems. The facts and the research however indicate that it is actually very stressful to the human body to sit for prolonged periods of time on a regular basis.
WHAT ARE THE AFFECTS PROLONGED SITTING?
Research has linked sitting for very long periods of time to a number of health concerns and other health related issues. These concerns include obesity, heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and more. These conditions are very prevalent in the trucking industry, and impact not only the driver’s health, but also their ability to stay on the road. As we are all aware, many of these conditions can lead to delays and disqualifications when a driver goes in for their re-certification exam so that they can stay driving.
Other issues can also develop. Did you know for example, that truck drivers can suffer more frequently from chronic leg pain, varicose veins and swelling in their legs as a result of sitting as much as they do? This is caused by something referred to as venous (veins) congestion or pooling of blood in the legs due to the lack of movement necessary to keep blood moving efficiently from your legs to your heart.
More acute medical problems can also be the result of prolonged sitting also. For example, sitting too long can lead to blood clots forming in your legs. These blood clots, also known as a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), will not only keep a driver out of work for at least two months (the waiting period associated with this condition in the medical guidance), but also they can be life threatening.
How about back pain? Back pain is also very much associated with sitting too much. Numerous studies show that sitting is actually more stressful on a person’s lower back than standing is (about 20% more stressful). As a matter of fact, the greatest reason associated with back pain in truck drivers, does not relate to heavy lifting on the job, but prolonged sitting and one other factor known as whole body vibration (from the truck engine).
WHAT CAN TRUCK DRIVERS DO TO DECREASE THE EFFECTS OF SITTING?
First and foremost make sure what you are sitting in is designed for prolonged use. Custom seats with good shock absorption features can reduce some of the negative effects of sitting, and also significantly decrease whole body vibration that is a contributing factor to so many medical conditions and problems. They can offer varying degrees of support for your back and neck and improve circulation in your legs through various adjustments and other features.
If it’s a company truck there are still many things you can do to improve your seat. Using a low back support cushion or even a rolled up towel positioned to support the lower back can be a big help. A towel or a small pillow placed behind the neck can add support for your neck and upper back. Adjusting the seat height, seat back and distance from the pedals will allow you to conform to the ideal position, and also allow you to change the position a few times a day and provide some variation of the stress points that your body undergoes from sitting too long in one position.
The simplest advice for combating the health risks of prolonged sitting for a driver is to stand up frequently. If it is stopping for lunch or to gas up, spend a minute or two extra, and at least walk around the rig before you get back in. If you have a little more time, do some exercises that help improve circulation, and that are good for back health. Things such as toe ups, stair steps, back bends etc. are some examples.
If you can’t get out of the seat, you might have to become more creative however. Do some neck and shoulder stretches while you driver. Something simple that will allow you to maintain your focus on the road, such has simple head rotations and shoulder shrugs. Also, to decrease the risk of forming blood clots or a DVT in your legs, research has shown that even by taping your feet, such as tapping to music, you will increase circulation in your legs.
Also watch your posture as you drive and avoid leaning into the wheel while driving. Don’t keep a wallet or anything lumpy in a back pocket as it can not only throw your spine out of alignment, but can lead to pressure on the nerves going into your legs (causing sciatica).
Lastly, be sure to stay hydrated! Hydration might not seem related to sedentary lifestyle issues, but it is. To begin with it will help keep you spinal discs more healthy. Additionally, a steady intake of water will help maintain the balance of electrolytes in the human body as well as improve kidney function and counter act some of the other issues of sitting too long.
Dr. David Thorpe
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