Preventing trucker shoulder

by Karen Bowen

If you have ever lost time for a musculoskeletal injury at work, you are not the only one. According to recent research, commercial truck drivers experience some of the highest rates of injury, missed days of work, and workers’ compensation costs when compared with other occupations.

Although back injuries are the most common injury among truck drivers, the second most common – shoulder injuries – take longer to heal, cost more downtime, and usually require more extensive treatment than back issues.

U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics state that even more dynamic occupations requiring heavy lifting, such as laborers, warehouse workers, etc. experience a lower rate of shoulder injuries than truck drivers. So, it’s no wonder the name of a shoulder condition directly related to the trucking industry is “trucker shoulder,” a condition which encompasses a series of issues involving the shoulder’s tendons and ligaments.

Everyone’s shoulders are naturally prone to injury. Comprised of three bones – the clavicle (collar bone), humerus (upper arm bone), and scapula (shoulder blade) – the shoulder is held together with a variety of muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The shoulder’s ball and socket joint moves with a gliding action that allows your arm to hinge out and away from your body, and to rotate in a circular motion. Accommodating this broad range of movement for the joint, muscles, tendons and ligaments reduces your shoulder’s stability.

Trucker shoulder is mostly experienced by truckers because of the movement required in your everyday duties. The repetitive motions involved when getting in and out of your cab, tarping, chaining, loading, and unloading your truck can lead to chronic joint inflammation, bursitis, shoulder dislocation, impingement, and chronic, severe shoulder pain. As well, rotator cuff tears and labral tears, which are common injuries for athletes engaged in repetitive throwing or overhead motion sports, including baseball, football and baseball, are also commonly experienced by truck drivers (and all these injuries are exacerbated when you carry extra weight).

Also, the prolonged sitting involved in long-distance hauling can result in further repetitive strain injuries, since sitting increases the pressure on your spine by 50%.

Added to normal sitting spine tension, while driving you must also compensate for the slight right-tilted grade of the roadways designed to allow rainwater to easily run off into the ditch. To remain centered in your lane and prevent your rig from drifting onto the shoulder, you are continually forced to pull the wheel to the left, typically using (and straining) your left shoulder.

Holding this left-pull position every second of every minute of every mile throughout your long workweek can cause your muscles to eventually become unbalanced, as your body builds up adhesive fibers between the muscle layers to try to maintain equilibrium.

These developing adhesive fibers may eventually bind the shoulder muscles and impede free movement, leading to numbness, tingling, restricted range of motion, and eventually, debilitating shoulder pain.

Another cause of shoulder injury is sudden steering movements, according to a recent British study, and particularly when your seat is positioned far back so your arms are fully extended while gripping the wheel. Sitting comfortably closer to the wheel will create less shoulder strain during regular and emergency steering action.

To help maintain the integrity of your shoulder, include in your diet foods that build muscle and connective tissue, such as fruits and vegetables high in anti-oxidants, and quality proteins. You may also benefit from supplements containing glucosamine sulphate and chondroitin sulphate.

As well, try the following simple crossover arm stretch to keep your shoulder limber:

While sitting, relax your shoulders and gently pull one arm across your chest as far as comfortably possible. Hold in position with your other arm for 30 seconds, then relax for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other arm. Do four repetitions per side, five to six days a week.

Remember, your ongoing steering ability rests on your shoulders.

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.


  • My man is a truck driver think he has this what should he do? His shoulder hurt bad he thinks it’s arthritis but the pain last awhile, goes and comes

    • Go to the physio now it is not arthritis. I have just wrecked my shoulder from the same problem ended up with torn tendons as well , no driving anymore for me I am awaiting an operation now.

  • Iam a truck driver. But my shoulder popping stop me from driving. I use to lift weights alot and carry 205 lbs but lost weight when i stop driving thats when i felt the popping, can i physically drive a truck and pass physical.

  • My shoulder started popping after i lost weight and stop driving a semi. Ive always pass physicals with no problem. Now i need to work. Can i pass a physical with this shoulder popping. Theres no pain. Just the sound of popping