By Cara Reed
special to Land Line
News flash: Your body is not as durable as the rig you drive. As a matter of fact, it is fragile, breakable and much more susceptible to wear and tear. But chances are you already found that out – the hard way.
Although you spend the majority of your time driving, your day’s duties probably also include pushing, pulling, reaching, bending, jumping, cranking and other repetitive motions. You may also slip, trip, fall, twist, overexert, etc. Whether routine or unexpected, activities such as these often lead to soft-tissue injuries.
Soft-tissue injuries include sprains and strains, or damage to your ligaments, tendons and/or muscles. About 50 percent of injuries suffered by truck drivers are in the soft-tissue category. Fractures, or broken bones, are associated with more disability and require immediate medical attention.
Understanding injuries to muscles and bones and being able to administer first aid to yourself or to a fellow trucker are the first steps in promoting healing for these all-too-common work related injuries.
The ‘look alike, sound alike’ injuries
Sprains are injuries to ligaments, which connect bone to bone. Sprains occur from stretching, tearing or twisting a joint, such as the ankle, knee or wrist. Sprains can occur when you fall onto an outstretched hand, land on the side of your foot, or twist your knee when slipping.
Characteristics of sprains include pain, swelling, bruising and difficulty in moving the joint. These symptoms can range from mild to severe. Some people feel a “pop” or “tear” when the injury happens.
Seek medical attention if the one of the following is true: The pain is severe; you can’t put weight on the joint; you can’t walk more than four steps; the joint “gives out”; the joint has lumps or bumps (other than general swelling); redness or streaks spread from the injury; or the area becomes numb.
Some sprains are so severe that they may take longer to heal than a fracture.
Strains, on the other hand, are injuries to muscles or tendons that connect muscle to bone. A strain may be a simple “overstretch” of the muscle or tendon, or can result in a complete tear. Strains usually occur from improper lifting techniques or overstretching muscles.
Chronic strains can result from overuse and prolonged repetitive motion of muscles or tendons, such as cranking trailer dollies or throwing straps. Strains commonly occur in the back or hamstring muscle in the leg. Characteristics of a strain include pain, limited motion, muscle spasms, weakness, and swelling or inflammation. Seek medical help if the pain is disabling or if site becomes red and/or hard.
First aid for sprains and strains is similar; they can be treated with RICE – not the white stuff Uncle Ben is known for, but these steps.
So what is RICE?
R: REST – Depending on the severity of the injury, reduce your activity, if possible, and eliminate weight to the injured area for 48 hours. If you can’t put any weight on the injured joint at all, see a physician.
I: ICE – Actual ice or a cold pack should be applied to the injury for 20 minutes as many as four to eight times a day. Do not use heat in the first 48 hours because it will cause more inflammation.
C: COMPRESSION – Wrap the injured area to reduce swelling and provide stability. Examples of compression techniques include elastic bandages and splints. Both can be purchased at a discount or drug store. When using an elastic bandage, always wrap from bottom to top. And remember, if you can’t slip your finger under the bandage, it’s too tight.
E: ELEVATE – Raise the injured extremity when possible to reduce swelling.
Put the brakes on breaks
A fracture, or break, occurs when more force is applied to a bone than it can handle. Fractures are a result of trauma, falls or a direct blow to a bone. Bones can be broken completely, partially cracked, compressed or crushed.
A compound fracture is when the broken bone protrudes the skin, whereas a simple fracture remains inside of the skin. Characteristics of a fracture include pain, swelling, deformity of the area, inability to move the limb or bear weight on it, warmth, redness and telltale bruising.
If bleeding is severe from a fracture, the victim may experience restlessness, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or a rapid pulse. Call 9-1-1 immediately if this happens because these are signs of shock.
Fractures require immediate medical attention, and are confirmed by X-rays, CT scans or MRIs. If you are not sure if you have a fracture or sprain, assume the worst and treat the injury as a fracture.
As soon as possible, immobilize the area by splinting it in the position it is in. Do not force the limb or bone to its “normal” position because you may cause further injury. A splint can be made from rolled up newspapers or magazines, an umbrella or a tire-checking club.
Secure the splint with cloth, tape, a belt or an elastic bandage. Check your pulse below the injury; if you can’t feel it, or if the limb is cool or blue, the splint may be too tight.
Do not massage the injured area. If bleeding occurs from a compound fracture, then apply pressure to the site. Do not eat or drink anything in case surgery is needed. Apply ice or a cold pack to the injury, if available. Above all, stay calm and seek treatment as soon as possible. LL
Your body has its own set of OOS criteria
One way to ward off serious sprains and strains is to stay limber with regular stretching and to modify your nutrition and personal habits to increase bone strength.
- Men get osteoporosis, too. The silent disease that breaks down the internal structure of bones is not just a gal’s disease. Drink milk products or other calcium-containing drinks, or take a supplement, but be sure to talk to your doctor about how much Vitamin D to take with your calcium pills to ensure optimum absorption.
- Smoking and other tobacco use take a significant toll on your skeleton. Nicotine increases the risk of fractures and interferes with the healing process.
- The more overweight you are, the higher your risk of sprains, strains and fractures.
- The more tired you are, the greater your risk for injury.
- Boots with heels, such as logging boots and cowboy boots, place you at an increased risk for ankle sprains.
- Boots and shoes with poor arch support will wreak havoc on your knees and ankles, especially if jumping from a rig or flatbed is part of your daily life.
- Many athletic shoes come with steel toes for additional protection. Choose low heels and rubber soles for safety.
Note from Cara: My husband, a flatbed driver, claims his back and knees never felt better after he bought all-terrain shoes (New Balance is one brand), as recommended by a foot doctor.
Cara Reed, M.S.N., lives in Old Forge, PA, and is a registered nurse and clinical nurse specialist in adult/geriatric health. She currently practices as a case manager in primary care and adult preventive health. Cara is the wife, daughter and sister of truckers and has always been interested in the trucking industry and, in particular, truckers’ health habits.