Objectives: To investigate the consequences of rally driving on lumbar degenerative changes.
Background: Vehicular driving is suspected to accelerate disc degeneration through whole-body vibration, leading to back problems. However, in an earlier well-controlled study of lumbar MRI findings in monozygotic twins, significant effects of lifetime driving on disc degeneration were not demonstrated. Another study of machine operators found only long-term exposure to vibration on unsprung seats led to a reduction in disc height.
Design: Case-control study comparing rally drivers with population sample.
Methods: Eighteen top rally drivers and co-drivers, mean age 43 yrs (SD, 10), volunteered for the study. The subjects were interviewed and imaged with a MR scanning and lumbar images were analyzed for degenerative findings using a standard scoring protocol previously published. The reference group was composed of 14 men, mean age 55 yrs (SD, 10), selected from a population sample.
Results: Overall results showed no significant differences in lumbar degenerative findings as assessed from MR images between the rally drivers and the reference group; age-adjusted differences were not statistically significant for disc heights, bulges, herniations, end-plate irregularities, or osteophytes.
Conclusion: Even extreme vehicular vibration as experienced in rally driving does not appear to have significant effects on disc generation.
Relevance: The study results do not support driving, and its associated whole body vibration, as a significant cause of disc degeneration and question the theory that the higher incidence of back pain among drivers is due to accelerated disc degeneration. Other driving-related factors, such as postural stress, may deserve more attention.