Not only do truckers earn their livings in one of the most dangerous occupations in California, but surveys and workers’ compensation data also show that they experience injuries that keep them away from work at higher rates than any other job. Although shoulder injuries come second after back injuries on the list of most common injuries among big rig operators, they cost more in time and money. It is not surprising that the term for one type of musculoskeletal shoulder injury is “trucker shoulder.”
If you spend most of your working hours driving an 18-wheeler, you will likely be all too aware of the pain caused by the trucker's shoulder. Your daily loading and unloading of cargo, chaining, tarping, and getting in and out of the truck’s cab are all repetitive motions that cause chronic inflammation in the shoulder joint.
Why are shoulders naturally vulnerable to injury?
The complicated structure of the shoulder comprises only three bones but a host of tendons, ligaments, and muscles that must hold it all in place. Here’s how your shoulder works:
- The three bones in your shoulder are the collar bone or clavicle, the upper arm bone or the humerus, and the shoulder blade or scapula.
- These three bones form a ball and socket joint in which the ball formed by the humerus glides smoothly to allow you to make necessary arm motions.
- To hold all that in place as you rotate your arm, or lift it out and away from your body in different directions, you have a variety of tendons, muscles, and ligaments, all of which can develop inflammation from overuse.
- Conditions that typically follow include shoulder dislocation, labral and rotator cuff tears, bursitis, chronic inflammation in the joint, and severe shoulder pain.
- These are all injuries that become worse when you lift and carry heavy objects.
- Once inflammation develops, it will compromise the stability of your shoulder.
Other contributing factors
Sitting causes an increase of 50% strain on your spine, and prolonged sitting when you haul long-distance loads can significantly increase the likelihood of repetitive strain injuries. The following factors also play a role in developing musculoskeletal injuries:
- You may not realize that you have to strain your left shoulder all the time while driving. This is because road designs include a slight tilt to prevent water accumulation, and to avoid your truck drifting toward the shoulder, you have to always pull the steering wheel slightly to the left.
- When you maintain this left-pull position while you drive hour after hour, your body reacts by building adhesive fibers to mitigate unbalanced muscles. This impedes movement, and you will develop restricted motion range, tingling, and numbness, all leading to eventual severe shoulder pain that could debilitate you.
Studies have shown that driving with the seat pushed back so far that you have to drive with outstretched arms can add further strain to your shoulders.
How will you cope with the financial consequences of the trucker's shoulder?
The trucker's shoulder can become so severe that chronic pain could keep you from driving — with severe financial consequences. It is a condition that typically heals slowly and requires extensive medical treatment. Fortunately, the California workers’ compensation insurance program will have your back. While you focus on recovery and getting back to work, an experienced workers’ compensation attorney can navigate the benefits claim on your behalf. Compensation typically covers medical expenses and lost wages.