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Handling Lower Back Pain

Author: Dave Thompson
An estimated 80% of Americans will complain about back pain at least once in their lives, and 37.4% of all musculoskeletal injuries from truck driving turn out to be back pain. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists it as the most common injury you're going to see as a truck driver, causing you to miss out on several days of work. Truck drivers are also more likely to suffer back injuries more than any other occupation. Why is this the case and how can you prevent it?

Two Different Animals

If you haven't started driving yet, things are no different than when you're sitting in a padded chair at home. Once the engine is revved up and you're on the road, the situation changes. In the cab, the body needs to subtly adjust as the truck accelerates or decelerates, when it changes lanes or goes over bumps. Driving also causes constant vibrations that go up the spinal cord. Sitting for a long period as you do while driving can also increase the risk of lower back injuries.

What Else Might Be Causing It?

Another issue with back pain is that the source of it isn't always apparent, even with x-rays and MRIs. This means that even if with a few days off to get treatment, the medical staff might have no clue as to what's wrong and simply prescribe a pain killer. Sure, it treats the symptom, but it won't fix the cause. Some of the things believed to contribute to the problem in the average trucker include the following:

  • Seat design

  • Steering wheel angle

  • The distance between the steering wheel and the driver

  • Height or tilt for the seats

  • Padding or upholstery

  • Sudden activity without a warm-up or range-of-motion stretching

Alright, now that we know why driving increases your risks, let's move on to how to prevent the problem of back pain.

Start With the Chair

You will be spending anywhere between eight to twelve hours maybe more in the driver's seat, so it'd be best to start there. Based on data gathered from scientific journals, medical texts, and the National Library of Medicine, an optimal truck seat for alleviating or preventing back pain should have the following traits:

  • An adjustable seat back (100 degrees from horizontal is medically optimal)

  • Changeable seat bottom depth

  • Adjustable seat height, arm rests, and lumbar support

  • Dense foam to provide a firmer bottom cushion

  • Shock absorbers

  • Linear front-back seat travel

Other Things You Can Do

Alright, so maybe you don't have the "ideal seat" and can't really have your existing one modified to fit. That doesn't mean you're hopeless, because there are still a lot of things you can do to help reduce the risk of lower back pain.

Changing your posture can help. Wriggling around in your seat a little can alleviate the fatigue that muscles get from being in the same pose all the time.

Taking breaks is also essential for avoiding the fatigue and stress, as well as minimizing postural discomfort. Taking them frequently so you can stand up and move around a little is good, and provides opportunities to exercise, get in touch with family, or do a quick visual inspection of the rig at the same time.

Invest in a good back support for your seat if it doesn't have one built in. These can range from small ones that only provide support for the lumbar areas to full seat models that are designed to give varying levels of support for different areas of the back.

Finally, a lot of back problems tend to be functional, not structural. This means that it is inactivity in the ligaments, muscles, and joints that is the cause of the problem, not a busted disc or pinched nerve. Warm-ups and stretching routines before sudden heavy lifting or thrusting movements can help reduce the stress and keep all the relevant parts mobile.

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