They’ve Got Your Back

December 1, 2011

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A recent study listed Long Haul Truck Driving as one of the Top 10 Most Dangerous Professions in America; yet it may not be for the reasons you would assume.  Long Haul driving has been commonly associated with many degenerative health issues, all of these issues combine to make for not only an incredibly dangerous profession, but lifestyle as well.

With this is in mind, Dr. Richard Kaul of New Jersey Spine and Rehabilitation has teamed up with The St. Christopher Fund to provide no cost consultations and MRI reviews for truck drivers.  This is an effort to show our gratitude for the essential and often underappreciated services these drivers provide.  The St. Christopher Fund is a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance and advice for drivers who are facing financial hardships due to medical problems.

Dr. Richard A. Kaul of New Jersey Spine and Rehabilitation has seen many of those who drive trucks and have suffered spinal conditions or chronic pain conditions.  Dr. Kaul is Board Certified Spine Specialist who has a duel specialty in Interventional Pain Management and Minimally Invasive Spine Surgeries.  We at NJSR know that time is an essential factor in your profession.  In many instances, those with chronic pain decline treatment due to the long rehabilitative time that is common with spine procedures.  Many do not have the luxury of taking several months off from driving as a driver’s ability to earn a paycheck is based on his ability to drive.   
Dr. Kaul is a pioneer and has devised several techniques which eliminate the need for a long recovery and therapy period.  He is performing spine procedures on an outpatient basis.  This means you will leave our facility the same day as your procedure so that you may return normal function much more quickly than with traditional spine procedures.

As a driver, you are well acquainted with the heavy lifting and strain that comes as part of the occupation.  In most safety and injury prevention courses there is a significant portion dedicated to proper lifting techniques.  However, not all of these protocols can be followed all of the time and in many instances time outweighs safety.  Repetitive strain, the torque on the lower back or the intense strain put on the muscles of the back cause the vertebrae to shift or slide and can cause disc bulges, herniations, nerve impingements and spondylolisthesis.

Still, heavy lifting is not the only risk of back injury for drivers.  The task of driving for up to 10 hours at a time takes a tremendous toll on the body.   Truck manufacturers have made significant advances in comfort for drivers; however, little can be done to remedy the natural forces of physics while driving.  When your truck is not in motion your body is in a very similar position to sitting in a standard padded chair.  Yet, once the vehicle is in motion, this all changes.  Unlike regular sitting, while a vehicle is in motion the body is subject to different forces: to accelerations and decelerations, to lateral swaying from side to side, and vibrations throughout the body.  Also, when driving the feet are actively being used, the right foot on the gas (accelerator) pedal, the left on the brake, and in a stick-shift also on the clutch. When the feet are active they cannot be used to support and stabilize the lower body as normally happens when they are placed on the floor during normal sitting in a chair.  These constant position changes and instability promote tension and torque of the spine and the muscles surrounding it.  Also, the repetitive concussion of being jostled around a seat on an unpaved or poorly maintained road can damage the spine as well.  During periods of driving on unstable roads the spine acts as a shock absorber for the brain much like the shocks on your truck.  But as we all well know, sometimes shocks wear out and need to be replaced, if they are not we can do serious damage to the truck.  In the human body the lack of shock absorption causes disc compression, a painful and degenerative condition that can cause pain to radiate throughout the back and extremities.

Another study went even further to try to associate the frequencies of the human body and those that occur when driving:
“Laboratory research has studied the effects of whole-body vibration when a person is sitting in a car seat. The lumbar spine has a natural resonant frequency of 4-5 Hz, and results show that this natural frequency can be excited by laboratory simulated vehicle driving, and this can lead to high spinal loadings in the lower back, and this in turn could result in greater postural discomfort and an increased risk of low back pain and injury.”

Another significant risk factor is the lifestyle that Long Haul driving seems to be synonymous with.  Healthy eating, dieting and exercise habits are not always easy to follow.  This compounded with irregular sleeping habits has tremendous effects on the metabolism and this in turn affects the spine.  A study in The American Journal of Epidemiology linked a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) with a higher rate of back and neck pain.  Truck drivers have a 20% higher instance of obesity than average Americans, this is understandable due to the lifestyle mentioned earlier.  However, it is still an alarming trend.  Added body weight increases pressure on the spine and the muscles surrounding it.  A simple example is when your truck is carrying a heavy load you have to drive more conservatively because the truck is more easily damaged by potholes or obstructions.  The same is true for the human body; more weight means more risks of injury.

Lastly, there is the risk of accidents and the bodily damage sustained during them.  The US Highway Patrol estimates that there are over 500,000 large truck accidents every year with only 25% of them being the fault of the driver in the truck.  Sadly, the fault of the driver has no bearing on the rate of injury.  The most prevalent form of injury is Whiplash which can occur at speeds as low as 15 MPH.  Whiplash is damage to either the soft tissue of the neck or the spine itself.   A whiplash injury may be the result of rapid stretching of the spine, mainly the anterior longitudinal ligament, which is stretched or tears as the head snaps forward and then back again causing a whiplash injury.  Also, whiplash can be caused by shifting or rupturing of disks in the cervical spine.  Not all whiplash injuries are instantaneous; some victims can have mild or no symptoms for up to 6 months.  Although someone may be asymptomatic does not mean that they have not sustained damage.  It is important to see a physician directly after an accident, regardless of speed or the symptoms, or lack thereof, you may be feeling.•