Truckers spend hours sitting in the cab while being jostled around on bumpy roads. It’s little wonder complaints about sore muscles and stiffness are common.
Longhaul driver Sameer Vij knows them all too well. He occasionally suffers from back and shoulder pain during and after driving. “The amount and frequency of pain depend on the run, road conditions and load weight,” he says.
Physiotherapist Mari Mueller,who often treats truck drivers, says the main complaints she hears about include neck, mid- and lower-back pain; foot cramps; hip pain or tightness; as well as shoulder pain. Each issue can arise from bouts of prolonged sitting and steering, poor posture, stress, and tension.
“Many of my patients also complain of the irregular hours that come along with the trucking industry, which make it difficult for them to attend treatment. Additional complaints include a more sedentary lifestyle and limited access to healthy meals,” she adds.
The driver’s seat itself can be a central tool to ensuring comfort. But upgrading or replacing the all-important perch many not be high on the list of priorities for fleets or owner-operators.
A change could be in order. Seat manufacturers are improving their products in the name of providing a smoother ride, offering comfort, and reducing fatigue.
For example, Knoedler Manufacturers Canada ensures better posture by incorporating ProBax — a series of foam inserts with precise geometric shapes and locations.
“By removing the slumped posture common in foam-based seats, the occupant experiences reduced back ache and lower muscle fatigue,” says Gail Sokalski, customer service agent for the St. Hubert, Que., manufacturer. Correct posture is clinically proven to improve blood and oxygen flow, which increases concentration levels, she adds.
Seats Canada uses a trampoline-type of material called EVC (elastomeric vibration control) that reduces the vibration a driver feels. “Fleets value the seat to keep drivers driving their trucks for long periods of time,” says Adam Lindloff, sales manager for the company based in Mississauga, Ont.
The case for comfort
Chiropractor Dr. John Kim says truckers can typically work through issues like back and neck pain or headaches. But it makes their daily activities challenging and uncomfortable, and sometimes painful.
The issues compound over time. Vij knows his body leans to the left to compensate for the camber in the road, which slightly slopes from left to right. Doing this for several hours a day causes pain and discomfort. To counter this and provide relief, he sometimes rolls up a jacket or sweatshirt and places it under his right thigh to balance things out. Wearing a posture corrector while driving has helped reduce the pain and soreness, too.
Trucker Ravish Garg says when he drives for long periods, his thigh muscles get tired. “I don’t have any issues with my back, but I do have pain in the neck and shoulder region due to driving,” the owner-operator says. “The muscles get stiff. Sometimes if I just touch my neck, I can feel the pain. It really hurts.”
Registered massage therapist Amanda Pickering says most of the truck drivers who come to her for treatment complain of neck and shoulder tension as well as lower back and sciatic pain. “I find truck drivers work a lot and rarely take time off, even if it would benefit them to take a break,” says the therapist who treats patients in Acton and Milton, Ont.
For his part, Vij does yoga and back stretches on the road to manage the pain, but does not visit a health professional during his short stints at home.
“It is hard to schedule an appointment, especially during the pandemic. I am a cross-border driver, and the medical questionnaire asks if you have been outside Canada in the past 14 days. My answer is yes, and they are not allowed to see patients that have been traveling outside the country,” he says.
Garg says he does not have the time to go to therapist for a massage. He is home only for a short time before returning to work. “Sometimes I press the sore area myself,” he says.
Seeking and following advice
Kim says many drivers will wait until they feel pain and only then decide to seek medical help.
“I find things build up much earlier,” the chiropractor adds. Preventive maintenance for your spine, especially if you are sitting for hours, will keep problems from compounding. “It’s like going to the dentist, you want to get your teeth checked before they hurt.”
Sticking with the care will make a difference as well. Physiotherapist Mueller says some truckers will attend one or two sessions and then go back to work for a long period of time. But she offers an exercise program they can do on the road, including some postural correction strategies, advice on proper ergonomics, and supports and cushions that may help.
Examples of simple changes include emptying back pockets to avoid tilting the pelvis while driving, and adjusting seat positions by a few degrees every 30 minutes, Mueller says.
Pickering says regular massage therapy helps reduce muscle tension and improve circulation. “Make sure you have a good supportive seat. Having a worn-out seat can cause you to sit unevenly, which could contribute to complaints,” she adds.
Picking a seat
Which brings us back to the option of replacing or upgrading seats.
Sokalski says it’s best to order seats based on unique needs. “Why pay for features that won’t be used?”
Cushion options can vary from widths to features like gel pads, memory foam, and varied base heights to support proper ergonomic alignment that will depend on the length of a driver’s leg relative to the cab in which the seat will be installed. Comfort can be further enhanced with features such as swivels, heat, cooling, and massage.
“We’ve got low-profiles for specific trucks or individuals that want to ride lower, we do have heavy-duty suspensions as well,” says Seats Canada’s Lindloff.
Research and development, meanwhile, continues into issues like ergonomics and comfort. Knoedler focuses on removing unwanted vibrations. Seats Canada taps into real-life data from vehicles, and monitors vibrations and harmonic balances, while also completing pressure mapping.
Both seat manufacturers also advise investing in durable covers for their seats — a low-cost way to protect an investment made in the name of driver health and wellbeing.
6 tips to better body mechanics
Seat adjustment can be as important as a seat choice. Physiotherapist Mari Mueller offers the following advice for drivers:
- Choose a position so you can comfortably reach the pedals and controls without overstretching or straining.
- Raise the seat high enough to clearly see out of all the windows and at least three inches over the steering wheel
- Set a position where you can reach the steering wheel without overstretching. That means the steering wheel should be about 10-12 inches from your torso.
- Ensure the entire length of your thigh is supported on the seat cushion.
- Raise the seat’s head restraint so it touches the top of your head, with the cushion tilted slightly forward to support the neck
- Ensure your entire back is supported by the seat cushion. If the back leans too far away, you’ll have a tendency to angle your head and neck forward, putting strain on the muscles and joints in the neck and upper back
By Leo Barros