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December 01, 2004  |   Comments (1)   |   Post a comment

Simple Exercises to Prevent Driving Pains

Incorporating flexing and stretching techniques into the driving day can help school bus 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


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Early this school year, James Kraemer, a veteran school bus driver and founder of 2safeschools.org, found himself suffering from work-related pain. “The seat frame on the bus I was driving was distorted by a previous driver,” he said. The damaged seat proved to be more than a nuisance. “Back pain after driving a few hours in that seat was horrible and seemed to aggravate the door-side arm and shoulder as well,” Kraemer said.

Unfortunately for school bus drivers, Kraemer’s story is not unusual. But there is something bus drivers can do about it. Exercises and stretches can help drivers such as Kraemer prevent some of the aches and pains that accompany a career behind the wheel and avoid the high costs associated with more serious health conditions that may arise.
Sources of soreness
According to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), one of the biggest health-related complaints among school bus drivers is chronic lower-back pain. Not only that, but such pain tends to start early in a driver’s career.

The blame in most cases falls on the prolonged sitting and the constant body vibration that drivers experience as the bus moves along its route.

However, there are other causes of bodily aches suffered by bus drivers. Some older bus seats were not designed with comfort and body support in mind. Or, as in Kraemer’s case, a damaged seat can cause physical discomfort or injury as well. Likewise, controls on school buses sometimes require drivers to twist their heads and bodies, which can lead to pain.

Finally, school bus drivers who transport students with physical disabilities often have to lift and transport students onto and off of the bus. Such heavy lifting can lead to even more strain and physical discomfort.
Flex the pain away
Annette Stuckey, a Wichita, Kan.-based physical therapist, compiled a list of exercises that people who spend much of their time driving can do while in their vehicles. The goal of most of the exercises is to have drivers break up the time that they stay in one position by flexing certain muscles.

While the exercises can be done while sitting down and during any aspect of the driving process, bus drivers might want to try them out while they are waiting at stoplights and while the bus is parked. Some of the exercises require a little bit of focused attention, and while driving students, drivers should keep all of their attention on the road.

One of the first things bus drivers should do is relax their muscles. A good way to do this is through deep breathing.

When breathing deeply, drivers should make sure that air is taken in through their diaphragms. To do so, they should breathe 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 the entire system down 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. {+PAGEBREAK+} 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 help drivers 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.

Neck bends allow drivers to stretch their neck muscles. 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 financially challenging.

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, school bus 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 of this exercise 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 designed to ease strain on the lower back is the pelvic area. One such exercise requires that drivers push their pelvis forward. The movement will result in an increased arch of the lower back. Then drivers should bring the pelvis back.

Another exercise for the lower back 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. Not only does this exercise give drivers a chance to move their lower backs a little, but it loosens 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 bus 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.

School bus drivers also can take advantage of down time by walking. Naturally, walking cannot be done while drivers are driving, but a brisk walk can be employed between trips. Not only does walking give a school bus driver’s leg muscles a good workout, but it also works the cardiovascular system, leading to good heart health. {+PAGEBREAK+} Insist on comfort
The AFT offers several suggestions that can complement exercise. School bus drivers who find their seats uncomfortable can place a pillow behind their lower back in order to make the ride a little more comfortable. The organization also suggests that drivers apply more force to bus controls such as the brakes. The more force that’s exerted by the arms and legs when operating such controls, the less pressure that ends up being placed on the back.

Finally, it pays to be assertive. Bus drivers who must manually lift students, for example, should ask for help in doing so. Likewise, if seats are damaged, drivers should insist that they be repaired.

A bus driver’s ability to do an effective job is hampered if that driver is in physical pain. 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 on and off of the school bus.

 


The importance of the physical/mental connection

Even drivers who aren’t experiencing physical pain as a result of their driving routines can benefit from physical exercise. By adding exercise to their routes, bus drivers can also improve their moods, outlooks and the way they think.

Physical pain poses a distraction to bus drivers. By eliminating that source of discomfort, drivers can not only improve their moods, but they can concentrate more easily on the task at hand, which is to transport students safely to their destinations.

Exercise also leads to the release of hormones called endorphins in the brain. Endorphins cause the body to relax, which in turn decreases stress and anxiety.

The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, a committee that advises the president on matters of physical activity and fitness, points out the influence of exercise on the mind in a paper called “The Effect of Physical Activity on Mental Health.” According to the paper, depression and anxiety decrease with exercise, while energy and self-esteem rise.

While driving a bus can sometimes pose health challenges of its own, bus drivers can take a little physical activity and go a long way toward improved physical and mental health.

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

 


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Hi Tamara, I enjoyed lots your page. Could you please recommend me any exercises I should do for my driver back since 2004 I feel lower back pain. I look forward to hearing from you. Do you have any workshop to join in?... tanks again. A

Allie    |    Oct 15, 2013 02:50 PM

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