Musculoskeletal Pain & Truck Driving

Musculoskeletal Pain or Doc’ My Back Hurts

Blog 5 Truck Driving & Health

Thus far is this series, Truck Driving & Health, we have looked at the good-news, bad-news in the trucking industry regarding diet, exercise, air quality, and sleep.  We will now turn our attention to the area of musculoskeletal health and issues affecting the trucking population.  By definition, Musculoskeletal disorders (commonly referred to as MSD’s) are injuries or pain in our musculoskeletal system, which includes our joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves, tendons, and the structures that support our limbs, neck and back.

Musculoskeletal Pain & Truck Driving 

The University of Waterloo conducted a study in 2018 which revealed that almost 60% of truck drivers experience musculoskeletal pain – particularly low back pain.  NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) reports that musculoskeletal injuries are 3.5 times higher in the truck driving population. 

Why do truck drivers seem predisposed to higher incidents of musculoskeletal pain or injury?

One reason is the potential for injury associated with slips and falls entering and exiting trucks, checking and securing loads during wet or icy conditions.  Short-haul drivers whose jobs require more loading and unloading are at greater risk for bend-twist-lift injuries.  Apart from these occupational hazards which involve the laws of physics and gravity, other laws are at work within human anatomy and physiology.

Use it or Lose it!

It almost sounds like a Nike ad that didn’t quite make the cut: “use it or lose it!”.  Though it may be a tad pop culturesque, the little phrase holds something of the essence of sound science – Wolff’s law and Davis’ law. 

Julius Wolff was a German anatomist and surgeon who discovered that bone in a healthy animal or person will adapt to the load under which it is placed.  The bone will actually remodel itself and become stronger over time in response to the increased load.  Davis’ law is similar except it relates to soft tissue – muscles, ligaments, tendons.  And the converse is also true.  Lack of stress or load will result in decline of functioning – strength, length, range of motion.  If you have ever had a limb in a cast, you will notice how the muscles of that limb have atrophied several weeks later when the cast is removed. It takes a return to usage for the muscles of that limb to return to pre-injury size.

Not only does the sedentary nature of truck driving effect metabolic functioning, it also effects musculoskeletal functioning.  Apart from effecting cardiovascular health (see blogs 2 and 3 of this series), remaining seated behind the wheel of a truck for long periods of time can cause problems for musculature, joints and bone density. 

Movement is Key

musculoskeletal painMany joints in the body are synovial joints (e.g., fingers, knees, hips, shoulders).  Synovial joints require movement in order to keep them healthy.  When these joints move, synovial fluid is released into the joint to keep it lubricated and to provide nutrition to the joint.  Remaining seated for long periods of time immobilizes the hip joints and reduces the synovial fluid circulating in the joint.  The body has an amazing built-in warning system.  What starts as a stiff and uncomfortable feeling if ignored often crosses over into pain.  Hip pain and dysfunction is often related to low back pain.

Prolonged Inactivity

To add insult to injury, prolonged immobility promotes the production of scar tissue-like adhesions in muscles, and immobility also reduces circulation.  Prolonged sitting may also lead to nerve impingement in the hips, shortening of muscles of the quadriceps and hip flexors. Remaining seated for long periods of time contributes to a weakening of core muscles which help protect the back.  All of this negatively impacts posture.  Postural imbalance leads to pain which often leads to a reduced desire for movement, which leads to further loss of muscle tone, range of motion and postural balance.  It is the proverbial vicious circle. 

Get Out & Walk

Fortunately the trucking industry is aware of the high rates of musculoskeletal dysfunction faced by OTR and short-haul truck drivers.  There is a movement towards, well, movement.  Truck drivers who have embraced trucking as a career are also embracing the need for self-care – part of which is physical fitness.  Truck stops are starting to provide safe places to walk or run.  Terminals are building gyms into their work sites.  On-line resources are providing coaching and tips to assist truck drivers who want to pursue better musculoskeletal health through movement and stretching. And medical clinics, conveniently located in truck stops, are cropping up across the US and Canada.  In fact, one chiropractor near Toronto, Canada is getting in on the act.  He has established his practice in a large truck stop and has expansion plans that include bringing on board a medical doctor as well.

Biagi Bros

Biagi Bros is a full service, B-to-B logistics company based in Napa Valley, California with branches throughout the United States and South-East Asia.
If you would like information regarding freight forwarding or warehousing, or if you are interested in working for a company that cares about the environment, people and a job well done in every area of life, contact Biagi Bros.


Wolff’s Law:

Journal of Transport and Health:  Factors associated with musculoskeletal pain and discomfort among Canadian truck drivers: A cross-sectional study of worker perspectives

PubMed:  A Descriptive Study of Musculoskeletal Injuries in Long-Haul Truck Drivers: A NIOSH National Survey  Back Behind the Wheel: Osteoporosis: The Silent Thief

Mother Trucker Yoga:  Step it up Interval Walking, 60 Benefits of Yoga for Truckers

Rattray, Fiona S; Ludwig, Linda M. Clinical Massage Therapy: Understanding, Assessing and Treating over 70 Conditions. Elora: Talus Incorporated, 2005

Please follow and like us:
Visit Us
Follow Me
Follow by Email
Tagged with: , , ,