• Before we start a job, most of us know to take a second to make sure we have all of the tools we need and have thought about the job ahead.
• Do you take the same time before you get out of your driveway?
• Whether it’s a lifting task, or operating a vehicle, taking the time to put your back in ‘neutral’ is essential.
• Neutral posture happens when your hips are at the back of your seat, and your low back is supported comfortably.
• The combination of long commutes and road trips, coupled with poor low back posture and vibration from your vehicle can lead to more and more discomfort.
• The bottom line is that before you start any commute – start with your back in mind. It will thank you over the long haul. Here are the things you should consider before you hit the road:
o Ensure you have shifted your hips to the back of the seat (lean forward and shift your hips back).
o Check to make sure you have support in your low back, mid back and that your head can touch the headrest (consider buying a half or full lumbar roll if your seat doesn’t provide lumbar support).
o Make sure that you don’t feel pressure points from the seat (e.g. by your knees) on the back of your legs.
o Make sure you can keep your back supported with your feet flat on the floor and comfortably reaching the pedals.
o If you have to use your laptop in your vehicle, try sitting on the passenger side to improve your comfort and posture. Alternatively look for laptop stands or try an external keyboard (some even have built-in mousing devices).
• There is a classic Seinfeld episode where George gets picked on for carrying his ‘Costanza’ wallet. He carried so many receipts around in his thick, massive wallet, that at one point his back leaned to one side when he sat down. He even resorted to stacking napkins beneath his other pocket to level himself.
• Not surprisingly, he ended up with a sore back…
• What do you do with your wallet when you drive? A simple rule is that you should never drive with a wallet (or anything else) in your back pocket.
• Of course there are many other habits that we pick up as we try and multi-task. Here are a few others that you may or may not be aware of:
On long drives, do you use cruise control to allow you to change postures and relax muscles?
On drives of greater than an hour, do you regularly take short breaks?
Are you a ‘road rager’ or an aggressive driver or do you manage your speed, distance and maintain a constant awareness of hose around you?
When you are driving, do you drive dead tired, use your cell phone or drive drunk (did you know that all three of these can have the same impact on your driving ability)?
If you are working on your laptop in your vehicle, do you sit in a twisted posture?
• One of the most important things to understand about driving is that prolonged sitting in a vehicle, with your back slightly slouched can cause the ‘shock absorbers’ of our back to get a little out of position.
• If you drive for a while, then jump out and start lifting or unloading tools or equipment, your back is at a higher risk of injury.
• If driving and handling heavy items are a part of your job, here are things you can do to help you protect your body and your back:
After driving and exiting your vehicle, take at least 2-3 minutes after exiting your vehicle before you lift anything heavy.
If you have to lift items more than 50 pounds as part of your job, and have the means, have you look into lift assists that could help you. You could consider something like a Spitz Lift (http://www.truckcrane.net/about.htm).
Keep the materials in the back of your vehicle organized to ensure that frequently used items and the heaviest items can be accessed easily without working hunched over in the back of your truck. Consider truck bed options such as a cargo slide (http://www.truckcargobed.com/gorilla/gorilla.html).
If possible, use a dolly or something else that is easily accessible to carry bulky items more than 10 feet.
Do preventative maintenance for your body (e.g. core stability exercises or strength training). No amount of workplace equipment being fit and healthy (both at and away from work).
Look around at truck accessories if you are using your truck as a work bench (e.g. detachable work platforms or vicse) to help you work in neutral posture.
• If you have ever used a jackhammer or been hit playing a contact sport, you know that vibration and impacts take their toll on the body.
• When you think about driving for long periods or driving or rough terrain, it’s important to realize that the side effects of driving can accumulate and cause serious physical problems.
• Here are some simple suggestions to consider if driving over rough terrain is part of your job:
Check your tires daily to make sure that they are in good shape and sufficiently inflated.
Regularly maintain your vehicle to make sure the shock absorption systems are in good shape.
Check to see that your seat is in good shape, e.g. check that the foam or seat structure not broken down.
Wear your seatbelt at all times.
Keep your fingers and hands on the outside of the steering wheel in case it turns violently.
When you are driving over rough terrain, slow down to minimize impact on the body.
Consider, particularly if you have a say in at the time of purchasing, how the vehicle fits you (e.g. are the seats highly adjustable?) and how it responds to rough terrain?
• It’s important to recognize that it’s not only the number of kilometers but the harshness of the kilometers that gradually lead to the breakdown of our vehicles AND our bodies. Being proactive and maintaining our bodies and vehicles in top shape are crucial if we want to stay on the road for the long haul.