Trucker MD
Did last summer’s heat kick your butt?
Muscle spasms make you say uncle?

By John McElligott, MD

From exposing you to long hours in dangerous heat to stressing muscles from long hours behind the wheel – trucking is a job that can sure beat a body up. Here’s some brief info and a couple of quick “what to do’s” about two aggravating situations that are common to the truck driving profession.

A few months ago I passed out from the heat while on a loading dock in Topeka, KS. I was taken to an urgent clinic, and they said it was heat syncope. What is that, and is that the same thing as a heat stroke? I just fainted. No mental confusion. What causes this? I have been trucking in hot weather all my life.

Heat syncope is when you overheat and faint. It may be heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Both can cause blacking out (syncope). You can tell the difference by paying attention to some simple details. Was your skin red hot and dry? Or was it sweaty and cool? The former is heat stroke – when you quit sweating. The latter is heat exhaustion – when you sweat excessively. Whichever one it was, you need to replace your fluids and electrolytes immediately.

Once you have either condition, you are more prone to having it again. Most folks need at least 2-3 liters a day of water to remain in equilibrium. On a hot day you may need up to more. Make this important note to self: Don’t underestimate the sun.

I have muscle spasms in one leg. My family always called this a Charley horse. The muscle contracts involuntarily and will NOT relax. It really hurts and if it happens while I am driving truck, I try to extend my leg or move it to get some relief, but sometimes I have to stop the truck and get out and walk around until it goes away. I have these several times a week. What’s going on? Should I see a doc?

Muscle spasms can be really painful. Those that occur in the calf are usually due to overuse and common with truck drivers. My first suggestion is that you move the seat up closer to the pedals and use a different part of the foot to flex forward.

But if you choose to see a physician, you should first do a little ergonomic evaluation. Is it your right leg or left? Is it a lower extremity or higher? Spending so many hours behind the wheel is likely the culprit but you need to determine whether it is the accelerator leg or the clutch leg.

Do your cramps occur during a period that the cruise control is off or in heavy traffic? These facts will help your doctor determine the cause and suggest a remedy.

Do you ever have them when you are walking? Cramps that occur with walking can be vascular. This is known as peripheral arterial disease, or PAD. So make sure you’ve evaluated yourself completely before seeing a physician about it. Your answers to the doctor’s questions will be important.

If none of these describe your situation accurately and your Charley horses have no rhyme or reason, try a banana a day to replace your potassium and add a couple of Tums for a bit of calcium. LL