09 Oct Drivers At High Risk For Back Pain
Epidemiological studies conducted around the world have shown a link between long duration driving and back pain.
According to the Mayo Clinic, back pain is ranked second only to headaches as the most frequent cause of pain. Four out of five adults will experience a bout of back pain at some time in their lives. Like oil and water, driving and human backs are not an ideal mixture. Not only can chronic back pain make life miserable for drivers, particularly if driving is one’s occupation, but the very act of sitting in one position for hours on end can aggravate and even be a leading cause of back pain. Lower back pain of vehicle drivers are mainly caused by long hours of driving in a restricted posture, car vibration or shocks from roads, and mental stress associated with driving. Drivers with 15 years’ service or more had over three times the risk than drivers with up to 5 years’ service, and drivers with 6–15 years’ service had almost twice the risk, according to a large study conducted in Japan.
“Any discomfort or pain you feel may be telling you quite a bit about the state of your back and the relationship to your car and how you sit and how long you drive – and you should listen to your back” says Sheraz Syed, owner and Director at Triumph Physical Therapy. “Long hours behind the wheel can seriously damage your health, particularly if you don’t take the right precautions with correct seating and correct physical health maintenance.”
Poor ergonomic design is only part of the problem, particularly for occupational drivers, who may spend many hours a day at the wheel of a taxi, truck, bus, or industrial and construction machinery. Vibration is another important factor that can lead to injury and disablement. Regular exposure to whole-body vibration over many months or years can lead to damage and back pain. The longer a driver is exposed and the higher the level of whole-body vibration, the greater the chances of suffering a back injury. Once one begins to suffer back pain, continued exposure to vibration is likely to make the pain worse.
Other factors which can cause or increase back pain include: poor driving posture; poor design of controls making them difficult to operate; poor driver visibility making it necessary to twist and stretch; and personal factors such as level of general fitness, being overweight, and choice of leisure pursuits.
If you drive a lot and suffer from chronic back pain, or even if you wish to forestall the onset of back pain, the application of a little common sense can help. For instance, try to avoid driving for more than two hours without taking a break to stretch your legs. This will help to prevent fatigue, and relax your back. Secondly, try to change your driving position by adjusting the seat from time to time-providing you can still handle the controls safely. Various seat cushions and back supports can be purchased from independent suppliers and one of these may help. Short drivers can purchase pedal extensions from some car manufacturers. On the highways, cruise control can be a useful option.
Physical health plays a major role in alleviating problems in the first place. It’s important to avoid being overweight, which places additional strain on the back. And there are all sorts of exercises to strengthen the muscles and increase back flexibility.