While it may seem relaxing to spend your working days sitting and cruising the highways of America, professional truck driving can take a toll on the body — especially in the form of bodily aches and pains. That’s because long periods of sitting with your arms and legs outstretched (driving) places extra strain on your body’s joints and muscles. Prolonged exposure to this extra strain can affect posture and the natural way in which your muscles want to hold your body upright. Your body’s eventual response to this strain and the resulting changes is aches and pains.
One way to prevent and alleviate aches and pains associated with prolonged sitting or driving is to stretch. While stretching can increase your overall flexibility and range of motion, reduce the risk of injury, and relieve stress, it’s especially important for truck drivers because it can help re-elongate muscles that get “stuck” in a position that’s conducive to driving, but less-than-ideal for your long-term health.
Preventing and relieving aches and pains related to extended hours of sitting or driving can be achieved through a variety of easy stretches and movements. Before we dive into specific stretches for drivers, however, let’s take a look at some basic stretching tips.
Stretching Tips for Truck Drivers
1. Avoid stretching cold muscles.
Ideally, stretching should be done when your body is warm — whether from external or internal heat. Examples of external heat are hot baths, heating pads that are placed directly on the muscle, and sometimes, the ambient heat from the sun. Internal heat comes from warming your body up with exercise, such as a walk, a light jog, or with dynamic stretching (movement and stretching that happen at the same time). All of these things cause an increased blood flow and warmth through your body — a combination that creates a healthier and safer environment for stretching.
Why is stretching cold muscles looked down upon? Imagine stretching a cold rubber band. Like many things, cold temperatures make things contract (get smaller or tighter). In the case of the rubber band, the cold makes the rubber band shrink into a smaller, tighter space. Not only does this mean its ability to stretch is less effective, but it can also cause the rubber band to tear or break more easily when stretched at normal to longer stretches. If you compare your cold muscles to the cold rubber band, you can see why a warm rubber band, and likewise a warm muscle, is a smarter way to stretch.
2. Understand the difference between dynamic and static stretching.
Dynamic stretching is a kind of stretch that increases flexibility through smooth movement and repetition. This type of stretching is great because it allows your body to properly warm up for the type of movement you are about to perform, all of which equates to better performance and fewer injuries. The benefits of dynamic stretching have made this type of stretching part of the standard warm-up procedure for both amateur and professional athletes, as it is considered the most effective type of stretching for improving range of motion for functional movement (sports and daily living). Keep in mind that the National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends a light 3-5 minute jog before performing dynamic exercises.
Dynamic stretching exercises can be done with just your body weight and in as little as five minutes. (Do not confuse dynamic stretching with the uncontrolled, jerky, bouncing movements of ballistic stretching.)
Static stretching involves holding a challenging but comfortable stretch, often in a seated or standing position, for a certain period of time (usually around 30 seconds per stretch). These stretches are usually done after a workout to lengthen and rid the muscles of lactic acid, and they should not be painful. If your stretch is painful, you’re probably stretching your muscles too far, too fast. When done regularly and at a gradual pace, static stretching is a safe, useful way to improve flexibility, but many experts consider it less effective than dynamic stretching.
Both dynamic stretching and static stretching can be either active or passive — it just depends on if you’re using outside assistance (body weight, a strap/band, a wall, gravity, another person, etc.) to help you stretch. The thing to pay particular attention to is that most experts agree that dynamic-active stretches are more beneficial in improving functional, everyday life movements and more.
3. Stretch your whole body.
Your muscles are part of an intricate system that works together to help your body move and stay upright. In this highly connected system, tightness in one muscle or area can lead to tightness and pain in another area. That’s why, with stretching, it’s extremely important to not only stretch the area that feels tight, but to stretch nearby muscles and, ideally, the entire body as well. If that sounds too overwhelming, a physical therapist can help you target the stretches and exercises that will help you most.
4. Breathe with your stretches.
When you’re stretching, don’t forget to breathe! Breathing during stretching is important because it increases oxygen and blood flow in the body and, therefore, elasticity in muscles. As an added post-activity bonus, breathing also relaxes the body and purges lactic acid from muscles.
With most forms of stretching, especially dynamic stretching, just breathe normally. With static stretching, however, try breathing purposefully, especially as you take your stretches deeper. Here’s what we mean: take a deep breath in your nose before leaning into your stretch; as you move into the stretch, blow out slowly through your mouth.
5. Stretches should not be painful.
Stretching should be challenging, especially as you first begin your routine. Stretching should not, however, be painful. As stated earlier, if your stretches feel painful, you might be stretching too deeply, too soon. If this is the case, simply ease off the stretch and continue stretching without pushing that muscle too far. As your body gets more flexible you can attempt to take your stretches farther — just make sure you’re properly warmed up and breathing with your stretches. If you experience continued pain, however, stop stretching and consult a doctor.
6. Hold your stretches.
When static stretching, it’s important to hold each stretch for a certain amount of time. That time will vary depending on your age, previous injuries, activity level, the muscle group, and more, but thanks to these studies, you might want to aim for stretching each muscle for 30 seconds each (if you’re under 70 years old). Holding your stretches for the ideal amount of time helps ensure that your time spent stretching is actually worth it.
Creating a Plan for Greater Flexibility
There are many benefits of stretching, but doing them correctly and often can make a huge difference in the way your body feels and operates for years to come. Start slowly, understand that improving flexibility takes time, and keep these six stretching tips in mind. Once your body begins to adapt to continued stretching, you’ll ideally begin to lessen the pain associated with driving. To create a plan that’s tailored to your needs and conditions, be sure to consult a physical therapist or doctor.