Avoiding Driver’s Back Pain
To anyone involved in the bus and coach industry it will probably come as no surprise that driving is has been identified by the Health and Safety Executive as one of the occupations most likely to lead to no-injurious back problems. Indeed it has been found that drivers who cover over 25,000 miles a year average 22 days off with sickness compared with just over 3 days for low mileage drivers. The underlying cause may not be the actual number miles driven or even the vibration the long distance driver is exposed to. Indeed train drivers, who are exposed to less vibration than road vehicle drivers, are twice as likely to report low back pain. The main causal factor appears to be long duration sitting, for which our bodies were not designed. It has been found that people whose occupations involve sitting for long durations can suffer almost as much lower back pain as people whose job involves frequent lifting.
Why does sitting lead to back pain?
The pain seems to originate from ruptures to the discs separating the bones of the back. These ruptures can be quite small so they do not impinge on any nerve roots and so do not directly cause the pain but can lead to mis-alignment of the articulating joints, which can lead to pain. This may also lead to additional pain due to muscle spasm as a result of the original pain. Long term sitting has two effects that can result in these small disc ruptures.
Firstly, because the discs do not have a blood supply they are dependent on movements of the spine to ‘squeeze’ nutrients in and out. These movements may not occur when sitting for long periods so the discs may become deprived on nutrients.
Secondly, the bones of the spine are held in position by ligaments connected between cach bone. These are flexible but very strong fibres that stretch a small amount under tension. When relaxed, however, they do not recover their original length for several hours. Driving with a slumped posture will place the ligaments at the rear of the spine in tension so that, after a few hours, the joints of the back are unstable, leaving the discs vulnerable to rupture if the back is twisted, for example when getting out of the vehicle, or if loads are lifted.
Reducing the risks of back pain
This explanation of the causes leads to two primary preventative measures: to reduce the duration of sitting and to ensure a good driving posture that avoids slumping in the scat.
Reduce the duration of sitting
The service bus driver may have opportunities to get out of the driving seat and take mini exercise breaks during a shift and ideally should be encouraged to do so at every opportunity where the bus will be stationary for a few minutes. The driver should be encouraged to leave the vehicle and walk around.