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Don't Blame Your Back Pain on Your 18-Wheeler

Long hours on the road don't permanently harm your back, study says

FRIDAY, Oct. 18, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- The next time you feel sore after a long day spent in the car, rest assured that your rattled bones are fine.

A new study of identical twins says people who drive for a living don't permanently damage their backs.

"It means that structural permanent problems do not seem to be the root of this. That's very good news," says study co-author Michele Battié, a professor of physical therapy at the University of Alberta in Canada.

Many drivers suffer from back problems, especially those who, like truckers, who spend hours on the road each day. Some researchers suspect the physical stresses of driving -- including the never-ending vibration of the vehicle in motion -- cause the spine to deteriorate faster and displace discs, Battié says.

"There's a lot of controversy there," she says.

In her study, Battié and colleagues examined a Finnish study of identical male twins and found 45 pairs in which one twin drove for a living and the other did not.

"They engaged in tractor driving, bus and truck driving, and transport and heavy equipment operation," Battié says.

Using data from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers studied whether the spines of the drivers were any different from their twins.

"To our surprise, there was no apparent detrimental effect on the [spinal] discs, and there was not even a hint of greater degeneration in the spine of drivers versus non-drivers," Battié says. "We found no indication of a negative effect."

The findings appear in the online edition of The Lancet.

Battié cautions, however, that the pain complaints of drivers can still be legitimate, even if driving doesn't change the physical state of the spine.

"We're almost all prone to back problems to some degree, and driving may exacerbate symptoms," she says.

What To Do

For more information about back pain, visit the National Library of Medicine or the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

SOURCES: Michele Battié, Ph.D., professor, department of physical therapy, University of Alberta, Edmonton; Oct. 14, 2002, online edition, The Lancet
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