The more time I spend around truck drivers, the more I’m amazed at how physically demanding their jobs are. These giant machines present their operators with a host of different movement challenges beginning with the hood, ending with the lift-gate, and at all points in between. However, there’s one particular spot that elicits the same collective response every time it’s mentioned. Whenever the landing gear comes up I am guaranteed at least a sideways sneer or some kind of humored acknowledgment of the device’s avoidable but very real dangers. Everyone gets hurt while using landing gear. People slip and sprain things, drivers dislocate their shoulders. One guy knocked out three of his own teeth. Take a look at the injury reports, and you can see for yourself.
So why is the landing gear such a problem? After all, the landing gear is an ergonomic redesign whose purpose is to make what would otherwise be a challenging task much easier.
A HOUSEHOLD COMPARISON
As an exercise, allow me to refer you to your household vacuum cleaner: I’m serious. These two devices have similar mechanisms in one very specific way. I’m not talking about their overall use, they clearly have no functional relationship; one prevents a ten-ton trailer full of snow globes from otherwise obeying gravity and crashing to the pavement, the other allows you to suck cracker crumbs out of your low-pile carpet. However they do share an ergonomic detail that will help put into context one crucial step that can be taken to ensure strong movement positions that will help you avoid injury. First, unspool the power cord on the vacuum. There are (generally speaking) two hooks on the back of the vacuum that sit one on top of the other separated by maybe a foot and a half. Now consider for a second what it takes to re-spool the cord. Likely, you’ll hold onto the handle of the vacuum with your off-hand and bend at the waist, moving your torso up and down between two and four o’clock as you loop the cord over and under the hooks the eight or so times until it’s all back home. This is the same as raising and lowering the landing gear, just on a different scale.
This may not sound like a physically demanding task but, as anyone who’s ever cranked landing gear can attest, it is. If you aren’t moving in an ideal position, simply repeating the up and down movement of looping the power cord puts enough pressure on your lower back to cause significant wear-down over time - and even herniation if the wrong moment combines with the wrong movement. We’ve seen these injuries appear out of tasks that are far less demanding.
FLATTEN THE BACK
So how do we deal with these contingencies? The simple answer is, keep the back flat. By flat, I mean neutral. By neutral, I mean maintain the same posture while bent over as you would while standing straight up. How do we do that? The answer is in the hips. All it takes is simply moving the hips back as you incline your torso forward as you would, say, getting into position to field a ground ball, or sitting back onto a toilet (also, two oddly similar tasks). What this does is create a simple series of levers. The hips moving back allows the torso to incline forward, which helps keep the spine in the strongest possible position. If you don’t move the hips back as you bend, the spine is going to round, a position that is a leading cause of disc injury. Moreover, this hip/torso relationship is critical for repeatability, the kind that the landing gear demands as we crank it into place. Up-down, up-down, up-down, and so on. Think about it. Doing this with a rounded back can lead to an uncomfortable new reality.
Whether you have a fancy ergonomic tool, or it’s just you and the product, organizing your body in strong, stable positions will allow you the freedom to manage a variety of tasks. From raising and lowering the landing gear on the trailer, to spooling the cord on your Dyson, or even moving laundry between a stacked washer/dryer, consistent movement quality is key to steering clear of avoidable injuries.