Back problems are reported more by occupational drivers than by any other occupational group. One explanation is that whole-body vibration caused by the vehicle leads to accelerated disc degeneration, displacement, and associated symptoms. Michele Battié from the University of Alberta, Canada, and colleagues investigated the effects of lifetime driving exposure on lumbar disc degeneration in identical twins with very different histories of occupational driving during their life.
45 male identical twin pairs from the population-based Finnish Twin Cohort were studied. Data were obtained for driving exposures and potential confounding factors through an extensive, structured interview. Disc degeneration was assessed by lumbar magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
There was no difference in disc degeneration between occupational drivers and their twin brothers. The investigators also did not identify any overall tendency for greater degeneration or pathology in occupational drivers than their twin brothers.
Michele Battié comments: "Although occupational driving might be associated with higher rates of back-related symptoms, the mechanism for this association is probably not the result of irreparable damage of lumbar discs and vertebrae. Our inability to identify damage to these structures, despite substantial exposures, should be encouraging to those employed in occupational driving jobs. Although driving might exacerbate symptoms from back problems, it might not be associated with permanent damage. We suggest that attention be shifted from degenerative and morphological changes of the disc and vertebrae to other possible explanations for the link between occupational driving and the frequently reported higher occurrence of back problems."
Contact: Phoebe Dey, Office of Public Affairs, University of Alberta, 6th Floor General Services Bld, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 0M6, Canada;