The long-term effects of rally driving on spinal pathology

Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2000 Feb;15(2):83-6. doi: 10.1016/s0268-0033(99)00047-9.


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.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Automobile Driving*
  • Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Back Pain / etiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Epidemiological Monitoring
  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology*
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / diagnosis
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / epidemiology
  • Intervertebral Disc Displacement / etiology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology*
  • Lumbosacral Region
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Occupational Diseases / diagnosis
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Spinal Osteophytosis / diagnosis
  • Spinal Osteophytosis / epidemiology
  • Spinal Osteophytosis / etiology
  • Time
  • Vibration / adverse effects