According to the charity Back Care, between 30 and 60% of drivers report spinal pain caused or made worse by driving. And it’s not just sitting down for a long time that does it. Driving exposes your body to a lot of forces, including acceleration, deceleration and, worst of all, vibration. HGV drivers are especially at risk from vibration, as larger vehicles rattle and roll more than cars. While there’s nothing that will guarantee a healthy back, loads of tips are available to minimise your risk.
Advice often focuses on cutting down the time you spend behind the wheel. Walking short journeys and taking public transport where possible, for instance, are both preferable to driving.
Sadly, that’s not an option for hauliers, as reducing time on the road means reducing the time you work. Accordingly, these tips focus on managing stress. And one great way to do that is to learn a few quick exercises to do before, during and after your time at the wheel. They can even be done if you’ve got some down time between your delivery jobs and back loads.
Before and After Driving
Those who don’t drive a lot may consider it as low-effort. It’s just sitting down, right? Wrong. As anyone who works in the transport industry knows, it’s more like a workout. And, as with any workout, it’s crucial to stretch out before and after.
The first exercise is a simple forward bend. Stand with your feet a hip-width apart and your knees bent, then contract your stomach. Roll down as far as you can, letting your arms fall forwards, then unroll and stretch your arms up. It’s not rocket science, but it’ll reduce the stress on your body.
Our second stretch can only really be done at home, as you need to be on all fours. On your hands and knees, arch your back forwards so you’re looking down at the ground. Hold this, then hollow your spine and look up.
Each of these exercises should be repeated around ten times for best effect.
On the Road
You’ve obviously got a lot to think about while at the wheel. But if you get stuck in traffic, take the opportunity to look after your back. Loads of people make these movements naturally already, but doing it consciously can help a lot. The easiest one is to turn your head to the side and hold it there for a few seconds before returning. Repeat on the other side. Do these stretches slowly, though, as yanking your head can be bad for your spine.
On a Break
While most of us refer to taking a break as ‘stretching our legs’, there’s no reason to leave your spine out. Standing with your feet a hip-width apart, place your hands on your hips and tilt in either direction, again holding it before slowly returning to centre.
How to Sit
It’s easy to get into bad habits – especially as most of us don’t take much notice of our body position. But there are some postures that are a lot healthier than others, and it’s worth taking the time to adjust.
First, your buttocks should be close to the backrest, as leaving a gap can lead to an unhealthy leaning situation. Next, keep your legs slightly bent when pushing a pedal down, and keep your thighs resting lightly on the edge of your seat and not pressing down into it. There should also be a short gap between the edge of your seat and the crook of your knees – no more than a couple inches.
Moving up, your shoulders should be as close as possible to the backrest and you should be able to reach the wheel comfortably with your arms bent. Side bolsters should be close enough to offer support without restricting movement, and the upper edge of your headrest should be aligned to the top of your head. Finally, keeping your seat as high as possible will allow you a clear view of your surroundings and the dashboard without craning your neck.
It can be hard to keep an eye on all this, but, again, try using your time off between journeys out and back loads hometo stretch and readjust your posture.
Other Tips and Tricks
We’ll end with some general tips to help keep you healthy. First, be careful not to twist too much when getting in and out of your vehicle. Second, don’t try to carry anything too heavy. Third, never lift with a curved back: loads are better handled by bending your knees.
Finally, you can always talk to your boss or your HR department about any issues. It’s a common problem in the industry, so don’t feel self-conscious. Most companies will have established procedures to help.
Norman Dulwich is a Correspondent for Haulage Exchange, the leading online trade network for the road transport industry. Connecting logistics professionals across the UK and Europe through their website, Haulage Exchange provides services for matching delivery work and back loads with available drivers. Over 5,400 member companies are networked together through the Exchange to fill empty capacity, get new clients and form long-lasting business relationships.