A backer's dozen

Proper back care can reduce worker's comp claimsIt's no secret that back injuries are a pain in the ... well, let's just say a pain in the backside. A back injury is one of the most costly injuries, financially and personally, says Kathy Hilborn, an injury prevention consultant and physical therapist who has done extensive research on back injuries in trucking.Because of the nature of our business,

Proper back care can reduce worker's comp claims

It's no secret that back injuries are a pain in the ... well, let's just say a pain in the backside. A back injury is one of the most costly injuries, financially and personally, says Kathy Hilborn, an injury prevention consultant and physical therapist who has done extensive research on back injuries in trucking.

Because of the nature of our business, people in trucking have a greater chance of injuring their backs on the job than do those in many other occupations. Long stretches behind the wheel are often followed by stints lifting heavy objects - a dangerous combination for one's back. According to Hilborn, driving is one of the hidden risks for the back. "If you drive, even for short distances, your risk of back pain is increased by two to four times; if you drive a lot, your risk of disc rupture is increased by as much as four times."

Driving is hard on the back because the normal S-shape of the spine is contorted into a slight C-shape. Vehicle vibration and the fact that the back remains in one position for so long exacerbate the stress this C-shape puts on the back.

Pain is not the first warning sign of a problem, she maintains. In fact, it's often the last. Pain is the result of years of wear and tear on the back. Early warning signs include tingling in the legs, tightness and fatigue in the neck and shoulders, and soreness and stiffness in the lower back.

Here is Hilborn's 12-step plan for preventing driving-related back and neck injuries:

1. Get into the vehicle safely. Always maintain three points of contact with the vehicle and ground, and keep the back straight, bending only at the hips and knees.

2. Use backrests. These improve the seat's shape, and thus your posture, which means increased driving comfort.

3. Adjust your seat to an angle of 100-110 degrees; change it periodically. Your feet should rest on the pedals with your heels supported on the car floor. Knees should be bent slightly and extend about the width of two to four fingers beyond the edge of the seat. If possible, move the seat bottom to a backward incline of about 5 degrees. If you can't do this, try using a full backrest.

4. Maintain good posture. Never sit on your wallet, and sit all the way back in the seat, keeping shoulders and arms down and relaxed.

5. Adjust your headrest to prevent whiplash.

6. Adjust mirrors. You should not have to lean forward or twist your truck to see the mirrors. You should only have to turn your head left or right.

7. Use an armrest to reduce fatigue in your neck and shoulders.

8. Reduce vibration. Driving exposes your back to vibration, which is damaging to the spine.

9. Exit the vehicle safely. As when you enter the vehicle, always maintain three points of contact when you exit; never jump out.

10. Take posture and stretch breaks. Shift your position every ten minutes or so by doing shoulder rolls, neck stretches, and arching your lower back.

11. Load and unload safely. Avoid any lifting for 2-3 minutes after exiting the vehicle. Stretch before you lift. Take time to stop and think about the safest way to do the lifting.

12. Take care of your back at the end of the day by going through a regular routine of strengthening and stretching exercises.

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