In the driver’s seat, you retain control over many aspects of your day: your route, load, schedule, etc. However, sitting in the driver’s seat for extended periods may also bring unexpected outcomes, like a painful hip condition. More than 100 million North Americans complain of chronic pain – most commonly lower back pain, which is often related to hip issues.
All structures in your hips are essential for maintaining balanced movement and distributing weight evenly across your pelvis when standing, walking, and sitting.
The rounded head of the femur rotates in the hip socket. Flexor muscles coordinate hip joint movement. Cartilage surrounds the joint, preventing bones from rubbing against each other. Lubricating synovial fluid maintains smooth movement. Tendons and ligaments stabilize the joint.
Because hips are weight-bearing joints, each of these structures is susceptible to injury, inflammation and pain. Common conditions impacting hips include: extended sitting, femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), arthritis, bursitis, tendinitis, sciatica, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
When you sit for a long time, especially with poor posture in non-ergonomic seats, your hip flexor muscles can shorten, destabilizing the joint and increasing the chance of painful injury. As well, adjusting your seat too low can cause FAI, which occurs when the labrum (thick cartilage cushioning the head of the femur) wears thin, causing a popping or “catching” in the hip socket when you move your leg.
Arthritis can also cause hip pain. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disorders which deteriorate the hip cartilage, may flare up sporadically and worsen over time, eventually allowing painful bone to bone contact.
Bursitis can trigger hip pain as well, especially if you are older or involved in repetitive motion activities (climbing in and out of your rig). When the bursa (synovial fluid-filled sacs that cushion the movement of the hip joint) become irritated and inflamed, they trigger symptoms similar to osteoarthritis – pain and tenderness on the outside of the hip which moves to the back of the hip and down the leg.
Tendinitis, a less common cause of hip pain, is triggered by repetitive motion activities too.
Over time, the tendons surrounding the joint may become irritated, inflamed and painful, especially when movement takes place after you’ve sat for few hours.
Sciatica, caused by piriformis syndrome, can also cause hip pain. The piriformis – a small band of muscle that attaches to the base of the spine and travels across the sciatic nerve – allows you to extend your legs and extend and flex your feet. When the piriformis becomes tight, strained or compromised, and contacts the sciatic nerve, it causes shooting pain whether sitting, standing, lying down or walking.
As well, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common form of lupus, can cause your body to attack and damage its own hip joint. If you have SLE, you’ll likely experience sporadic painful episodes that increase in number and intensity over time.
To avoid minor hip pain, practice self-care. After driving for a few hours, stop and loosen your hips with a stretch – cross your legs and squeeze to gently stretch the outer hip muscles; or, pull the soles of your feet together in front of you and gently move your knees up and down. Take a short walk. Every day, complete 20 front and side lunges to strengthen your hip muscles.
To relieve minor hip pain, avoid: frequent bending at the hip; direct pressure on the hip; prolonged sitting; and/or sleeping on the affected side. Use over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve). Treat the painful area with ice and/or heat, using ice cubes and/or a warm bath/shower.
For chronic hip conditions or severe hip pain/injury, get medical help, especially if your hip suddenly swells or appears deformed; you can’t move your leg; you can’t bear weight on a leg; and/or you have fever, chills or redness.
Maintaining your hips – it should sit well with you.