Save Your Aching Back

IT DOESN’T TAKE AN EXPERT in kinesiology (the study of human muscular movements) to figure out that making a living as a trucker can cause your spine to look like a question mark after many years. Driving for extended periods of time can lead to poor posture and muscular imbalances. Imbalances lead to joint weakness and potential injury, which result in missed days at work and less bacon to bring home.

According to Kim Koch, a corrective exercise specialist, truckers most often exhibit “forward head syndrome” and increased kyphosis of the thoracic spine. What’s kyphosis? Ever seen the Hunchback of Notre Dame? Quasi modo had the same symptoms that truckers are at risk of having: A rearward curvature of the spine, resulting in a bulging of the upper back-a hunchback.

When seated with poor posture for long periods of time, “what happens is the chest muscles, neck muscles and the scalene [extending from the back of the neck to the first and second ribs] muscles are short and tight,” says Koch. Back muscles become weak and overcompensate by trying to pull the muscles back.

The most important thing you can do to help your back is to maintain proper seating alignment. Your seat rest should be all the way up so that the hip and knee joints are at a 90-degree angle. Keep your knees right above your ankles to establish proper blood circulation. If your knees are too far forward, you could develop knee and ankle joint problems, as well as sciatica. That’s a condition where the sciatic nerve, which runs down from the hips through the legs, is improperly activated, resulting in hip and leg pain.

Work Those Abs
Even if you think having a six-pack stomach is overrated, it’s still a good idea to strengthen your abdominals. Abdominal muscles are a part of every move that you make.

The problem is, when you’re driving, you’re not moving much, and the abs are shut off. Practice activating your deep abdominal muscles, which stabilize the spine during movement. Here’s how:

  • Inhale and inflate your belly.
  • As you exhale, pull your belly button in deep towards your spine and hold for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat this 10-20 times a few times a day.

Get on the Ball
Another easy way to work your abs is with an exercise ball, which you can keep in your cab. After a long haul, roll back and forth with your backside on the ball to loosen up stiff back muscles. You can do abdominal crunches with your tailbone supported on the ball to strengthen your midsection.

If you notice that your head sticks out in front of your shoulders, practice putting a finger on your chin and pushing it in until your ears rest over the shoulders. This technique alleviates chronic tension in the upper back area.

Other basic exercises are straight leg raises (lying down), wall squats, hamstring stretches and Supermans (lying on your belly simultaneously raising your arms and legs off the ground). Try to do some of these for at least 5 minutes every 8 hours you drive. And remember to monitor your posture.

Performing these exercises will not only make you feel better, they’ll also give you more quality years spent with loved ones.

Judd Handler is a freelance writer and wellness/lifestyle coach in Encinitas, California. He surfs uncrowded, fun reef breaks; plays instrumental alternate-tuning guitar; goes hiking in the backcountry; and is amazed on a daily basis by just being alive.