Protect Your Spine While Driving
There are different types of drivers ranging from truck drivers and workday commuters to RV drivers and people dropping off their kids at school. Each category of driver has its own risks for headaches, back pain, and sciatica.
Let's talk about the different categories of drivers who spend a great deal of time on the road. Perhaps you fall into one of these groups of people.
To and from work commuters. These people usually try to arrive at their destination as quickly as possible. They drive the same routes. They are often negatively affected by traffic and deal with a lot of frustration.
Those who drop off kids at school and spend time in car rider lines. This category includes moms, dads, grandparents and caregivers. This is the hurry-up-and-wait game where the driver rushes to school, but then must wait while other drivers ahead of them transfer children to and from school. They deal with frequent distractions (remembering lunches and school projects, kids who are sometimes impatient and rambunctious, and the impromptu teacher/school official who wants to ask a question or schedule a meeting).
Truck drivers. They spend most of their lives on the road. Some actually sleep in the cab. They can struggle with road fatigue and highway hypnosis. These drivers are greatly affected by highway construction, lane closures, and motor vehicle accidents (that sometimes block the road).
UPS/postal/delivery drivers. These people usually remain in the same region. They experience many small trips between pick-up and delivery. They may drive during unusual hours depending upon their trip. Their job may also involve loading and unloading their truck.
People who travel for sales and client related meetings. This category includes pharmaceutical reps, business reps, and sales reps. They may travel to attend meetings or trade shows / expos. They often transport luggage and whatever equipment is necessary for their event or presentation (even while wearing dress shoes or high heels). They may travel large distances and stay in a hotel.
RV drivers. These drivers sometimes have difficulty navigating bulky, cumbersome vehicles through narrow streets and tight turns. They must be able to set up and repair equipment associated with their RV. Because of a large windshield, and high position, these drivers have good visibility at the front of their vehicle, but limited visibility along the side and rear of the RV. These drivers sometimes tow another vehicle behind their RV.
Corporate executive travel. These individuals may be frequently away from home. They may fly to one destination but then have to drive to another. They may experience jet lag. They frequently rent vehicles. They are sometimes unfamiliar with the vehicle they are driving.
Bus drivers. These drivers must deal with unfamiliar passengers as they drive. They make many stops. Other drivers frequently try to pass them. These individuals sometimes must endure the inconveniences of faulty equipment.
People who travel for vacation/recreation. When first travelling to their destination, these drivers often traverse unfamiliar roads. They rely on GPS, driving apps, and printed maps to get them to their destination. They may be distracted by sight-seeing or by other passengers in their vehicle.
Industrial equipment drivers. These people typically sit on uncomfortable seats that offer little to no skeletal support. Some vehicles (ie. tractors, loaders, and forklifts) have a limited number of mirrors, creating areas of low visibility. Many of these vehicles have very little climate control. This can make their drivers uncomfortable and distracted. Some industrial vehicles have very little shock absorption, leaving their drivers to feel every single bump.
Dump truck drivers. This category of driver is prone to sciatica due to the long amount of time spent bouncing up and down in the driver’s seat. Sometimes, when they arrive at their destination, they must remain inside the cab to transfer their load. They seldom get enough time to stretch their legs.
Each category of driver has its own risks for musculo-skeletal concerns and other related health issues. Problems can vary dependent upon how many hours are spent on the road, how comfortable the vehicle is, how much stress is placed upon the driver, and what distractions are present.
Possible problems and health conditions that can arise from many hours spent on the road include the following:
Low back pain. It is important for a vehicle’s seat to have proper lumbar support. Even with a lumbar support pillow, back brace, or memory foam cushion, you can still experience a back ache if you spend too many hours on the road without rest or taking a break.
Sciatica. Our bodies are designed to remain active during the day. Sitting for prolonged periods, or being seated while a vehicle jostles or bounces up and down, can cause sciatica. You can lie on floor and have a friend check to see if one of your legs is shorter than the other, or if your heel is pointed too far outward or inward. This can be an indication that your skeleton is no longer symmetrical, and that muscles are tighter on one side than the other. One of the nerves that extend down the leg can become irritated, causing pain and uncomfortable tingling sensations.
Tension headaches. Muscle tightness in the neck can trigger a start a tension headache. Three main locations for muscle tightness to be aware of are: at the bottom of the skull, along the sides of the neck, and between the neck and shoulder blades. These muscles can become inflamed when your neck is set at an uncomfortable angle for too long. If you become stressed and notice your shoulders have risen upwards toward your ears, you also may develop a tension headache. Sometimes a tension headache can trigger a migraine headache.
Numbness and tingling in the hands. When you spend too many hours a day with your hands elevated above your mid-chest, you may experience uncomfortable sensations in your hands. Numbness and tingling can also occur due to the seatbelt fitting incorrectly, or faulty ergonomics / biomechanics.
Shoulder pain. Reaching too far for the steering wheel, a clutch that is difficult to maneuver, or the vehicle seat not fitting correctly, can contribute to shoulder pain while driving.
Neck stiffness and pain. Remaining for too long with your neck in a fixed position can cause muscle spasms and neck discomfort. It is important to try to remain relaxed. Once every 30 minutes, gently move your shoulders and relax your neck muscles.
Ache between the shoulder blades. This is most frequently caused by a vehicle seat that doesn’t fit correctly, is not the correct distance from the steering wheel, or doesn’t provide correct support for your specific size. In a perfect world, your vehicle seat would fit you as exactly as an item of clothing. A seat that fits incorrectly can cause the shoulder blades to become uneven so that one shoulder blade becomes higher (more superior) than its counterpart.
Muscle spasms and cramps in the feet. In this situation, a problem arises when your legs and feet have remained in the same position for too many hours. Proper seat position, seat angle, and seat support are necessary to prevent issues that can arise with the feet and legs. Try to use footwear that is both comfortable and supportive.
It is important to remain hydrated while driving. This can reduce muscle cramping and uncomfortable spasms. Take the time to make sure the seat is positioned so that you are as comfortable as possible. Adjust the steering wheel so that it fits your arm length. Check the mirrors to make sure you can view them without twisting your neck too far. Use a lumbar support when necessary. Schedule times to get out of the vehicle and stretch your back, neck, arms, and legs.
Regardless of the type of driving you do, make time throughout the year to visit a chiropractor. Explain to the chiropractor the type of driving you do and amount of hours you spend behind the wheel. This will help the chiropractor to develop a wellness plan for you, to keep you as strong and pain free as possible. Don’t wait until your pain becomes severe. Problems that are addressed before they become severe are usually easier to correct.