The Lowdown on Sitting Down

“My idea of exercise is a good brisk sit,” comedian Phyllis Diller once joked.
If your idea of exercise is a good brisk sit, however, you might want to think again. Studies show that sitting for long periods of time—when driving, for example—is very hard on your body. But you already know that: when you climb down from the cab after a long haul, the cricks, cracks, stabs, and stiffness that you feel are no laughing matter.

Professional drivers like you have no choice about sitting; that’s your job. The good news is that you can take steps to minimize the impacts on your health.
Setting your seat correctly is a quick and easy way to start. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety’s fact sheet “Driving and Ergonomics” explains how to make a number of seat adjustments, including height, cushion length, cushion angle, back rest and lumbar support, steering wheel, and head rest. Each of these should be customized to your body. If you are the sole driver of your truck, you’ll only need to set these once, but if you share your vehicle with other drivers, you’ll need to set them each time. CCOHS also has a podcast
“Car Seat Ergonomics,” covering this topic, if you prefer to listen and learn.
Now that your seat is in the best possible position, you can just relax and slouch back, right? Not quite. Even the best-adjusted seat can only do so much. Your driving posture is another key factor in how you feel at the end of the ride. Try these tips:

• Make sure your entire back rests against the seatback, keeping your bottom tucked at the back of the seat and your body in an upright position.
• Try to hold your arms close to your sides rather than reaching for the steering wheel; proper steering wheel adjustment can help with this.
• Shift your position often—even a small change will relieve stress.
• Don’t grip the wheel too hard and move your hands frequently.

Okay, you’re finally taking a break after a few hours behind the wheel. Despite proper seating and mindful posture, your back aches, your arms are leaden, and your neck is stiff. Now what? Take a few minutes to stretch your muscles and you won’t regret it, according to Dr. Stephen Funk, a chiropractor at the Sumas Mountain Chiropractic & Wellness Clinic.
“Stretching and good posture are essential to be able to drive for long periods of time. Every time you stop, be it to eat, chain up, or unload, make sure you go through a series of stretches that are going to alleviate tension in those trouble areas.” He suggests that professional drivers ask their chiropractor for stretches and exercises specific to their job stresses. “Exercises may include strengthening your core, gluteus, low-back, mid-back, and upper body muscles, while stretches should include specific ones for the hip flexors, low back, shoulders, and chest. If these steps are taken, you’ll be on your way to a more fit, less physically stressed version of yourself.” SAIF, the Oregon workers’ compensation agency, recommends eleven “Stretches for the Professional Truck Driver,” five you can do in the cab to take the knots out of your wrists, shoulders, arms, neck, and chest, plus six more for outside the truck.

Always do stretches slowly and gently; the benefit lies in holding the position for 30-45 seconds, not in sudden, powerful movements. Breathe deeply and slowly to get oxygen circulating throughout your body and relieve tension.

The best part about stretching is that it feels really good right away. It’s not like dieting, where you have to suffer now in order to bring about an improvement somewhere down the line. Sure, stretches and deep breathing will contribute to your overall long-term wellness, but your immediate reward is pure relief. So roll out those shoulders, unkink your neck, stretch those calf muscles, and reap instant pleasure.

One more thing: at the end of your shift—or any time you’re getting out of the truck—don’t jump down from the cab. After hours of sitting, your muscles are in no condition to absorb the impact of your body weight hitting concrete. Use the steps and handholds to climb down.
Creating positive habits like checking your seat position, watching your posture, and remembering to stretch doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do everything at once. Make a couple of small changes and carry them through consistently. Notice how they make you feel better. That will encourage you to try more.
Driving with the seat in the wrong position or with your body slumped isn’t good for anyone, but ordinary drivers might think making changes isn’t worth the bother. Professional drivers, who spend their working lives in the cab of a truck, know better.

Further resources:
SafetyDriven – TSCBC: 3-Point Contact & Impact Force Demonstration of Jumping Hazards and Stretches for the Professional Truck Driver
For more on this topic, watch WorkSafeBC’s short video titled “Ergonomics for Truckers.”
The American Chiropractic Association provides a patient information page on “Truck Drivers Ergonomics.”

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