TORONTO, Ont. — Have an aching pain in your back? Are your muscles and joints stiff? Do your legs fall asleep and tingle when you’re sitting for prolonged periods of time?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are you suffer from a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD).
MSDs are injuries or pain in the human musculoskeletal system, that includes the muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons that support the limbs, neck and back.
Common MSDs include back pain, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff syndrome, tennis elbow, and shoulder pain.
According to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, MSDs are the most common type of workplace injury, as they account for close to half (43%) of all work-
Between 2003 and 2007, data shows that MSDs claims resulted in 2.5 million days off work.
According to Dr. Wayne J. Albert, the dean of Kinesiology of the University of Moncton, MSDs develop when muscles and tissues stay in a fixed or constrained position for a long period of time, or when muscles and tissues are moving in continuous, repetitive motions. Another risk factor is force or straining of the muscles.
“This wears down the muscle and fatigues it,” he explained. “But as MSDs concern truck drivers, staying seated for a long period of time is to blame. When you don’t move around for a long time, the muscles and soft tissue get tight. Truck drivers always have to keep their eyes on the road so their head is always up making their neck muscles stiff and their shoulder muscles tense. So, mix the prolonged sitting with physically demanding work when they get to their site, it’s never good.”
Dr. Albert says it typically takes 15-20 minutes for muscles to loosen up after they’ve been stationary for so long.
“I know it’s hard for drivers to warm up because of the nature of the job and being on time, but many don’t stretch before they go and unload the truck, and that makes them vulnerable to MSDs and other injuries,” he said.
Symptoms of MSDs include: tightness, soreness or general discomfort in the hands, forearms, legs and back, tingling or numbness in the hands and limbs, and pain that keeps you up at night.
To prevent these injuries while in the workplace, Dr. Albert recommends a number of solutions.
Sit properly and comfortably
First, he said, if you’re forced to sit for a long period of time, and can’t frequently stop and stretch, it’s important to make sure you’re sitting in a proper way, and in a comfortable supportive seat.
“The most comfortable position to sit is on the sit bone,” he explained. “If you sit too far forward or too far back, you restrict blood flow to the legs and that’s what causes the legs to tingle. You want to also make sure you have a comfortable back rest position. Typically, what we recommend is a 10% incline. And you want a seat to fit you with comfortable padding.”
Get a massage
One method of treatment to MSDs including back pain and stiffness that is recommended by the Canadian Medical Association is therapeutic massage.
According to Richard Lebert, a registered massage therapist based out of Sarnia, Ont., the massage and manipulation of tight or fatigued muscles is beneficial to truck drivers all of sorts.
“The benefits of massage are really two-fold,” he explained.
For one, having a massage is a way to really relax and give your body and mind a break, he said, which drivers need. And second, massage can alleviate the pain drivers suffer with.
Stretch it out
Make sure to stretch and move around when you can, Dr. Albert said. He also stresses sufficient rest and good nutrition are key components to keeping your muscles and tissues healthy.
Lebert also advises drivers to do some simple stretches when they are off duty, especially after sitting for so long.
He recommends a simple figure four stretch, where, while seated you put one leg over your knee where the ankle can meet the top of the knee. Another is a simple stretch where you pull one arm across your chest, then the other.
Hold these stretches for 10-15 seconds, he advised.
“Stretching is so important for drivers so it’s important to remember that,” he said. “When you’re stretching you’re helping flush out any inflammation that’s built up.”