ARTICLE

January 2009, Business Fleet - Feature

Simple Exercises to Prevent Driving Pains

Incorporating flexing and stretching techniques into the driving day can help your fleet drivers steer clear of work-related pain and injuries, cutting down on worker's compensation costs and keeping them focused on a safe trip.

By Tamara Holmes

Driving can be a pain in the back.

Confined in a fixed position for hours on end, stressed out by traffic and with the constant vibrations of wheels on the road, it's not surprising so many people get a backache or neck strain after a long drive. Now imagine being on the road for most of the day as part of your job.

Exercises and stretches can help drivers prevent some of the aches and pains that accompany all those hours behind the wheel and avoid the high costs associated with more serious health conditions that may arise.

Flex the Pain Away

Annette Stuckey, a Wichita, Kan.-based physical therapist, compiled a list of exercises that people who spend a lot of time driving can do while in their vehicles. The goal of most of the exercises is to have drivers break up the time in one position by flexing certain muscles.

Though the exercises can be done when sitting down and driving, drivers might want to try them out while waiting at stoplights or pulled off the road.

One of the first things to do is relax the muscles. A good way to do this is through deep breathing. Drivers should make sure that air is taken in through their diaphragms by breathing in and out slowly and deeply. While breathing, drivers should not be noticing much movement in their chest and neck areas, but rather in their stomach areas.

Not only does deep breathing relax the muscles, but it also slows down the entire system and can lead to reduced stress.

Most of the exercises designed to aid drivers involve the stretching or rotation of body parts. The idea is to keep the neck and back muscles from getting stiff, because stiffness can lead to pain.

Bend the Neck

The neck is one area of the body that can suffer as a result of a lot of driving. Neck bends and rotations can keep the neck from getting sore, and they can be done in a matter of seconds, making them ideal exercises to be done at stoplights. Drivers simply move their heads sideways so that one ear moves in the direction of the shoulder. Then drivers simply tilt their heads the other way.

Neck rotations stretch the neck muscles even further. To do neck rotations, drivers simply look back over one shoulder and then the other, while keeping their backs straight.

Watch Your Back

While neck pain can be a nuisance, back pain can be both physically draining and costly.

According to the Mayo Clinic, lower-back pain is the fifth-leading cause of visits to a physician in the United States. In addition, back injuries in general are the leading cause of work-related disabilities. By employing a few exercises, drivers can keep their back muscles from tightening up.

To keep the upper back from getting too sore, drivers can do shoulder rolls. The name of this type of exercise speaks for itself. Drivers simply move their shoulders up, back, down and around in a circular motion several times. The benefit is twofold: Drivers keep their back muscles from getting too tight, while the shoulders get to be moved differently from the way drivers naturally move them when behind the wheel.

The concentration of exercises in the pelvic area is designed to ease strain on the lower back. One such exercise requires that drivers push their pelvis forward, resulting in an increased arch of the lower back. Then drivers should bring the pelvis back.

Another exercise requires drivers to move their pelvic areas from side to side. In order to do this exercise, drivers should first shift all of their weight to one hip and then the other. When shifting the weight to the left hip, the right buttock should be lifted slightly off the seat and vice-versa. This exercise gives drivers a chance to move their lower backs a little and loosen the lower-back muscles.

Move Your Feet

Drivers also want to keep the circulation running through their legs and feet. Since leg exercises require movement of the legs and feet, it follows that drivers should do these when the vehicle is parked.

One way to keep circulation running through the legs and feet is to twist the foot around in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions. Drivers can also move the feet up and down multiple times to exercise the leg muscles.

Drivers also can take advantage of down time by walking. Naturally, walking cannot be done while driving, but a brisk walk can be employed between trips. It's a good workout for the leg muscles and it works the cardiovascular system, leading to good heart health.

Insist on Comfort

The National Back Pain Association of the United Kingdom suggests avoiding hunching over the steering wheel or slouching in the seat. Drivers should adjust the angle of the backrest so that arms are comfortably positioned on the steering wheel. Adjusting the mirrors correctly will minimize the need to twist around in the seat.

If the vehicle has any lumbar support, adjust this to provide a gentle pressure against the lowest part of your back. If your seat lacks support, a lumbar roll or pillow may help.

By taking a few proactive steps and adding certain exercises to the daily routine, drivers can keep discomfort to a minimum and maximize their productivity and enjoyment of life in and out of the school bus. BF

Tamara Holmes is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer who specializes in writing about health and wellness.