Truckers spend many hours on the road, sitting in the cab while being jostled around on bumpy roads, steering a big rig that hauls heavy loads. So, it’s little wonder complaints about sore muscles and stiffness are common. The truck seat and posture play a major role in the health and career longevity of professional drivers.
As vehicles get older, the seat also deteriorates. Sometimes, seat replacement is not high on the priority list of fleets and owner-operators, leading to issues with pain and discomfort for drivers.
Longhaul driver Sameer Vij occasionally suffers from back and shoulder pain while and after driving. “The amount and frequency of pain depend on the run, road conditions and load weight,” he says.
Physiotherapist Mari Mueller, who treats truck drivers, says they sometimes spend days, weeks or months on the road and says this has a substantial impact on the way they are feeling.
Mueller, who practices in Milton, Ont., says their main complaints include neck, mid- and lower-back pain, foot cramps, hip pain or tightness, as well as shoulder pain. These issues arise from bouts of prolonged sitting and steering, poor posture as well as stress and tension.
“Many of my patients also complain of the irregular hours that come along with the trucking industry, which make it difficult for them to attend treatment. Additional complaints include a more sedentary lifestyle and limited access to healthy meals,” Mueller adds.
Seat manufacturers are helping ease the pain and providing a smoother ride by constantly improving their products to provide comfort and reduce fatigue.
Seat maker Knoedler Manufacturers Canada uses ProBax, a series of foam inserts of a precise geometric shape and location that encourage anatomically correct posture in the seat’s occupant.
“By removing the slumped posture common in foam-based seats, the occupant experiences reduced back ache and lower muscle fatigue,” says Gail Sokalski, customer service agent for the St. Hubert, Que., manufacturer. Correct posture is clinically proven to improve blood and oxygen flow, which increases concentration levels for drivers, she adds.
Seats Canada uses a trampoline-type of material called EVC (elastomeric vibration control) that reduces the vibration felt by the driver. “Fleets value the seat to keep drivers driving their trucks for long periods of time,” says sales manager Adam Lindloff for the company based in Mississauga, Ont.
Chiropractor Dr. John Kim says the issues that truckers have do not typically restrict or stop them from working, but it makes their daily activities challenging and uncomfortable, and sometimes painful. Dr. Kim, who practices in Milton, Ont., says common complaints are back and neck pain, poor posture, poor sleeping habits and headaches.
Owner-operator Vij says that since trucks mostly travel along the right lane of a road, which slightly slopes toward the right, his body leans to the left to compensate for this position. Doing this for several hours a day causes pain and discomfort. To counter this and provide relief, he sometimes rolls up a jacket or sweatshirt and places it under his right thigh to balance things out.
He has recently begun wearing a posture corrector while driving and says the device has helped reduce pain and soreness.
Trucker Ravish Garg says when he drives for long periods, his thigh muscles get tired. “I don’t have any issues with my back, but I do have pain in the neck and shoulder region due to driving,” the owner-operator says. “The muscles get stiff, sometimes if I just touch my neck, I can feel the pain, it really hurts.”
“I find truck drivers work a lot and rarely take time off even if it would benefit them to take a break.”
Amanda Pickering, RMT
Registered massage therapist Amanda Pickering says the main complaints from truck drivers who come for treatment are neck and shoulder tension as well as lower back and sciatic pain. “I find truck drivers work a lot and rarely take time off even if it would benefit them to take a break,” says the therapist who treats patients in Acton and Milton, Ont.
Trucker Vij does yoga and back stretches on the road to manage the pain but does not visit a health professional during his short stints at home.
“It is hard to schedule an appointment, especially during the pandemic. I am a cross-border driver, and the medical questionnaire asks if you have been outside Canada in the past 14 days. My answer is yes, and they are not allowed to see patients that have been traveling outside the country,” he says.
Driver Garg says he does not have the time to go to therapist for a massage. He is home for a short time before he returns to work. “Sometimes I press the sore area myself,” he says.
Dr. Kim offers chiropractic adjustments, mobility, stretching and lifestyle recommendations to his patients and says the tendency is for the body to lean forward when sitting or standing. When looking at phones and other electronic devices, make sure it is in front of you and raised, so that your chin is level, the chiropractor advises.
The chiropractor says a lot of times people will wait until they feel pain and then decide to see a doctor. “I find things build up much earlier,” Dr. Kim says. Preventive maintenance for your spine, especially if you are sitting for hours, will stop bigger problems. “It’s like going to the dentist, you want to get your teeth checked before they hurt,” he adds.
Physiotherapist Mueller says some truckers will attend one or two sessions and then go back to work for a long period of time. She offers an exercise program they can do on the road, postural correction strategies, advice on proper ergonomics and supports and cushions that may help them.
Examples of simple changes to make include emptying your back pockets to avoid tilting of the pelvis while driving and changing your seating position every 30 minutes by a few degrees, Mueller says.
Pickering says regular massage therapy helps reduce muscle tension and improve circulation. “Make sure you have a good supportive seat. Having a worn-out seat can cause you to sit unevenly, which could contribute to complaints,” she adds.
Being aware of your posture while driving and not slouching is also important. Regular stretching will help with tight muscles that could be affecting bad posture and strengthening the core is beneficial for back pain, the massage therapist says.
Knoedler’s traditional approach to building seats is to satisfy the unique needs of each driver rather than offering a few fixed variations. “Why pay for features that won’t be used?” says Sokalski.
Customers pick the best cushion with a variety of widths and add-on comfort features like gel pad, memory foam and ProBax posture technology, back style and select the seat base height to allow for proper ergonomic alignment, which is dependent on the leg length of the driver relative to the cab it will be installed in. Then comfort features are selected, such as swivel, heat, cooling, and massage. Beyond ergonomics, Knoedler also makes seats with custom upholstery requests and special configurations to suit the style of the driver.
Seats Canada offers more than 3,000 different part numbers on seats it offers. “We’ve got low-profiles for specific trucks or individuals that want to ride lower, we do have heavy-duty suspensions as well. The Pinnacle model is the one-size-fits-all because it’s got so much adjustment,” says Lindloff.
Seat manufacturers pour a lot of money into research and development. Knoedler focuses on driver comfort and ergonomics. The goal is to remove vibration that has a negative effect on the driver. Seats Canada uses real-life data from vehicles, and monitors vibrations and harmonic balances, while also doing a lot of pressure mapping.
Both seat manufacturers advise fleets and drivers to invest in durable covers for their seats, a low-cost way to protect a more expensive investment they have made for driver health and wellbeing.
Physiotherapist Mueller says truckers should be consistent with their treatment, try to maintain a good posture and engage in self-management strategies at home or on the road to help mitigate their symptoms.
As drivers find it difficult to book appointments with healthcare professionals due to time constraints and pandemic-related regulations, maintaining good posture, stretching, and exercising will keep pain and discomfort at bay.
An investment in a new seat will also most certainly help.