Back pain is a very common problem as we age and can range from an uncomfortable twinge to debilitating pain that can leave the sufferer unable to go about their normal daily activities. Although back pain can be caused by any number of ailments, it is often not caused by anything in particular.
Numerous cases of back pain can be prevented, or at least alleviated by staying active, and that is perhaps why so many HGV drivers suffer. HGV driving involves many hours sitting in one position, with very little actual physical activity during the working day.
On top of that HGV drivers often get used to sitting with a poor posture, resting one arm, and slouching, which when you do this for an extended period is bound to lead to problems.
Many of us are guilty of not being active enough, and our back is designed to move, so the importance of physical exercise cannot be overstated.
HGV drivers get a bad reputation for not being overly fit, often not exercising enough, or not eating healthily enough. A lot of the preventative measures for protecting your back can be achieved by adopting a healthier lifestyle.
As well as all of the normal advice to look after your back, as an HGV driver, there are many steps you can take whilst in your vehicle or performing your duties to look after your spine. Let’s explore some of these.
#1. Adjust The Backrest
As an HGV driver, you may be driving many different vehicles over the course of your career. This is particularly true of agency drivers, who may end up driving a different truck on every shift! It is important from the outset to familiarise yourself with the adjustment mechanism of your seat.
Some newer lorries can be more luxurious than many cars on the road and offer supremely comfortable powered electric seats. Even older HGVs have been paying more attention to driver comfort in recent years, finally realising that if any motorist needs a comfortable seat, it’s a truck driver.
Spend a bit of time before you start your journey, adjusting the backrest to ensure it makes contact with your back from your shoulders to your tail bone, ensuring your back is fully supported along its length.
#2. Adjust The Distance From The Steering Wheel
It is important to be sitting in a position where your elbows are at 90 degrees when you hold the steering wheel in the ‘ten to two positions. This can be achieved in two ways:
• Slide your seat backward and forward until the wheel is at a comfortable distance with your elbows at the appropriate angle.
• Move the steering wheel up and down to a comfortable distance from you. Having the steering wheel in an optimal position can also improve circulation on your journey.
#3. Adjust The Headrest
Once you have found the best position for your back and arms, you should adjust the headrest in your HGV. Adjust the height so that the middle of the head rest touches the back of your head about halfway down when you put your head back.
If you set the headrest too high, the bulge in the cushion will push your head forwards too much, putting unnecessary stress on your neck which will also influence your back. Too low and your head will lean back too much, which automatically puts too much pressure on the top of your back and shoulders.
Aside from the benefits for your back, another very good reason for having your headrest height set correctly, is that in an accident you are far less likely to suffer a whiplash injury, so whether you are trunking or just making a short journey, adjust the headrest before you set off.
#4. Adjust Your Mirrors
It can be very easy to forget to adjust your mirrors when you get into a vehicle that is not your normal ride. This again is especially true for HGV drivers, who may be driving unfamiliar vehicles all the time.
When adjusting your mirrors, the primary concern is obviously to get the best view of the road behind you and minimise any blind spots.
You can still achieve this whilst at the same time ensuring that the mirrors are comfortably placed so that when you turn your head you are not having to strain your neck too much. Straining your neck directly impacts your back.
#5. Lifting Techniques
You should be mindful as a lorry driver, that if you are involved in loading or unloading, you should pay close attention to looking after your back when lifting things, and bend from the knees!
It is important to keep your back straight when handballing, and if something is too heavy, ask for help. It is easy just to get on with the job in hand, especially when you are up against a tight schedule, but remember a back injury could put you out of action for a considerable amount of time and could have lasting effects for the long term.
#6. Pay Attention To Your Posture
Remember your mother telling you to ‘sit up straight as a child? Well, it turns out it was for good reason. Slouching or leaning to one side on your journey is bad for your back period!
Just having awareness of your posture more can make a huge difference to your back health. Aim to keep your back in an upright position, allowing the natural ‘S’ curve of your back to be supported by your seat.
Many of us get into the habit of sitting in a certain way whether we work behind a desk all day or behind the wheel of an HGV. Just paying attention to this with your back in mind will naturally encourage you to adopt a better posture.
#7. Take Regular Breaks
As an HGV driver, you are heavily regulated as to the number of breaks you need to take during your working day. It is important to use your breaks effectively.
Don’t just remain in your truck and relax, get out, stretch your body, and move a little! Cat stretches are particularly useful here, as is moving your body from side to side, and rotating your hips which helps your lower back.
It can be difficult to exercise during a short break period, but do what you can you mobilise your body, and do it regularly so that it becomes a habit.
#8. Medical Treatment
Whilst the vast majority of back pain is caused by posture, a sedentary lifestyle, and the natural aging process, you should be mindful that back pain sometimes requires medical evaluation as it can be caused by a myriad of conditions.
If you experience swelling or inflammation, if the pain is severe or persistent, or if you experience back pain that travels up to your chest, you should seek medical attention without delay.
Many serious conditions can cause back pain, so any accompanying symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, a fever, loss of bladder or bowel control, or numbness and tingling with the back pain should be a red flag and should prompt an urgent medical opinion. Likewise, back pain that begins after a serious accident needs evaluation.
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