By Dr Sandi Rogers ED.D. N.D
Life member of the ATMS
Back pain, neck pain, stiff joints, tingling fingers and high blood pressure need not be inevitable for those who spend their lives driving long distances. A few simple strategies can make a huge difference to your health and wellbeing.
Q: My partner and I both spend much of our working lives on the road, even though we have different jobs. The long hours of driving are starting to affect us physically. What can we do to guard against further damage to our bodies?
Not everyone who drives for a living is a long-haul or short-haul truck driver, courier driver or taxi driver. In my clinic, we treat many people who drive for a living. One thing that’s become clear from this is that the closer you are to the ground, the greater the impact to the body. The seats on passenger cars and smaller trucks tend to not be the best quality, and because you’re riding near the ground over different roads and terrain, they provide less cushioning.
The quality of seating in big rigs is far superior – different cushioning, better springs, more adjustment options, and because you’re high off the ground, there’s a buoyancy effect for the entire body. So, truckies on the big rigs have a distinct advantage, but unfortunately this advantage is negated by sitting for long periods locked in a fairly static position. This causes blood circulation to become sluggish, which leads to a decline in cellular oxygenation, so your brain and memory become a little foggy.
I’ve had truck drivers in the practice who say, “Sandi, when I reached Seymour, I couldn’t remember how I got there.”
I would like to do a survey on this to find out how many of our truckies would say something along the same lines.
Poor circulation can also lead to varicosities in the legs and elevated blood pressure. As drivers tire, they move over the steering wheel and actually round their shoulders down as their shoulders start to slump. This puts additional pressure on the chest; causing the circulation to become even more sluggish and the body to become even more fatigued.
We often have truckies come into the clinic complaining of tingling fingers. The reason for this is an accumulation of fluid through lack of movement in the lymphatic system. This fluid builds up can give rise to carpal tunnel syndrome – a common condition in truck drivers.
Holding the steering wheel creates locked muscles around the elbows, neck and shoulders – and of course neck and shoulder pain is another big issue for truckies.
There are some simple exercises you can do every half hour – safely, while you’re driving – to activate blood and lymph circulation and loosen tense muscles:
- Take one hand off the wheel and quite vigorously shake the hand at the wrist, then shake the arm from the elbow and the shoulder. As you’re doing this, raise your arm just above your head. Let it drop, put your hand back on the steering wheel, and repeat with the other arm.
- Lift your left leg up and let it drop to the floor. Now activate your calf muscle with a heel, toe, heel, toe movement, repeating this five or six times. Put your left foot to the accelerator and do the heel-toe routine on the right leg. This activity stretches the big calf muscle, which is classified as your second heart. Soldiers Spam and Privacy Laws standing motionless on parade on a hot day often faint because the blood drains from their head. Someone will grab hold of their foot, pump it backwards and forwards and suddenly they’re back again. The effect is no different sitting for long periods in a vehicle.
- Sit up with your back very straight. Now twist the upper body to the right, then to the left, and repeat. This moves the abdominal muscles and creates movement in the spine, encouraging blood flow through the big artery that runs through the centre of the body up into the head.
- Finally, stretch your head forward, to the right, to the left, and back (but not too far).
These simple movements will make a noticeable difference to your health. However, to achieve even greater benefits, I advise long-haul drivers to have a weekly or fortnightly massage with a qualified massage practitioner: there’s one in every country town in Australia (www.atms.com.au).
Regular massage does for the body what you can’t, and that is manually remove the tension from your muscles and stimulate blood and lymph circulation. The lymphatic system, which is very important for our immune system, our health and wellbeing, needs movement such as massage and exercise to keep travelling around the body.
The other aspect is the stretching that takes place with the massage: it opens up all the joints to promote the flexibility the body requires. For this reason, seek a diploma-qualified therapist rather than certificate IV: the diploma is required for the complex stretching procedures.
Finally, we’ve also noticed with our truck drivers that dehydration is a big thing, so be sure to sip water throughout the day.
Perfect Posture for Vans and Cars
Those driving smaller vehicles should aim to sit in a straight – not sloping – ‘L’ with your posture: back straight, head, neck and shoulders aligned, not leaning back, legs at right angles. This will help prevent the sore backs, sore legs, sciatica, and cold feet that occur when the circulation becomes diminished to the lower sections of the body.
The seat should be further away from the steering wheel rather than closer to it, so the legs are not crunched up as this decreases the circulation to the legs.