By John Leo Post, Contributor
We’ve all felt that little ache or pain as we move throughout the day. Maybe it’s a tight back or a squeaky wrist. We shake the ache off and get on with our day.
However, over time, these pains can lead to more serious injuries. Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs), as they’re often called, are the kinds of injuries that feel small but, over the span of a career, can add up to a serious injury—like a thrown-out back or carpal tunnel syndrome.
RSIs are the result of performing repetitive movements—such as deploying landing gear, sitting for hours in the cab or connecting gladhands—in weak body positions. These kinds of injuries often afflict industries with high physical demands, like truck drivers and warehouse workers.
Thankfully, professionals in these industries aren’t powerless against RSIs. By putting our bodies in strong positions as we move throughout the day, we can protect ourselves from the nagging pains that add up to lasting injuries. Fleet professionals who can avoid RSIs will be on track towards a successful, pain-free career.
THREE TIPS TO HELP DRIVERS AVOID RSIS:
- Sit Up Straight
While sitting isn’t the most strenuous task, the amount of sitting we do on a daily basis can turn this everyday position into a dangerous one. The average American spends 13 hours a day sitting down. Between commuting, working and relaxing, that’s a lot of sitting. When we slouch, lean to one side or melt into our chair, it puts pressure on the spine and discs in the back. This can ultimately lead to a laundry list of physical ailments, including but not limited to, low back pain, degenerative disc disease, upper back and neck pain, chronic headaches, loss of a normal range of motion, jaw pain (TMJD), diaphragm dysfunction, and even numbness and tingling.
The key to avoiding an injury like this is in prioritizing a neutral spine position. As you sit, try these steps:
- Squeeze your butt and your gut to find a strong lower back position.
- As you squeeze, keep your shoulders and neck back and aligned with the spine.
- Relax as much as possible—without giving up the strong posture you set!
- Maintain Neutral Wrists
The elbows and wrists are two of the most common victims of repetitive movements on the job. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, the most infamous type of RSI, afflicts the hands and fingers and is characterized by sensations of tingling, numbness or burning. In many cases, weak wrist positions are to blame for RSIs like these.
When performing intricate tasks, such as connecting gladhands or setting up landing gear, the shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands should all be in strong, neutral positions.
Before starting work, go through this checklist to protect your small joints:
- Put your wrists into a straight, neutral position. Cranking them in any direction puts added stress on the joints.
- Keep your hands in a “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-out” position as much as possible. This trick keeps your shoulder from rolling forward into a weak position.
- Control Your Descent
Depending on the type of driving required, a government fleet worker may exit the truck cab five to 50 times a day. The repeated stress put on the ankle, knee and hip can lead to rolled ankles, strained knees and worn-out hips, over time. Luckily, drivers can follow a few cues to ensure they’re protected from these types of injuries.
When climbing out of any type of vehicle that’s high enough to require a step, remember these cues:
- Turn around backwards so you can use three points of contact.
- Descend slowly, engaging the strongest muscles in your legs.
- Keep your feet straight, as you control your body weight down.
- Land softly, with your toe making contact with your ground before your heel.
You’ve heard it before; three points of contact is important. The technique not only protects against catastrophic slips and falls, but also helps us control the descent—ultimately reducing wear and tear on joints.
REDUCE RSIs, STRENGTHEN CULTURE
Drivers are regulated to stay safe through speed limits, weigh stations and hazardous material standards. There are no regulations, however, for how to leverage your body to perform both fundamental and highly challenging job tasks. RSI Awareness Day recognizes the repetitive demands drivers place on their body and potential negative consequences, i.e., injuries. By instituting best practices on how to position and move the body on the job, you can empower employees to prevent nagging aches and pains that can lead to RSIs down the road. An empowered workforce is key to a first-class safety culture. WMHS
About the Author
John Leo Post is the Co-founder and VP of Product for Worklete, a technology platform that reduces musculoskeletal injuries for shipping and logistics companies by over 50%, on average. A renowned movement expert, John is driven by the mission to make quality movement accessible to all and empower humans to live pain-free lives.