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Sit straight, not slumped
Musculoskeletal disorders arising from driving are on the rise

Thousands of drivers are suffering unnecessary injuries every day, but not as the result of drink driving, speeding or other accidents. Sitting in cars for long periods can cause long-term damage to the neck, back, arms, shoulders and knees, experts say.

At least half of high-mileage business drivers suffer from pains in their lower back from sitting — or slouching — say researchers at Loughborough University, UK, who are now setting guidelines to prevent driving-related strains and injuries.

“Driving long distances is one of the worst things you can do to your body” said Brian McIlwraith, an osteopath who specialises in car ergonomics. “There’s a tendency for you to be forced into a slumped position, so your back is bent, putting pressure on the hips, lower back and intervertebral discs.” Other potential dangers include stretching to reach steering wheels or pedals, and the way you pull yourself out of your seat, he added.

Musculoskeletal disorders are the most common form of work-related ill-health in Britain, and employees who drive more than 20 hours a week are at particular risk.

Those who drive for more than four hours a day or 40,200 km a year are six times more likely to take sick leave for a back injury than those who drive less. A recent study suggested that a fifth of men regularly experience muscle and joint pain or discomfort owing to driving, which makes motoring, after do-it-yourself home improvements, the second highest cause of aches and pains.

According to recent figures, 70 per cent of people in Britain drive to work, taking an average time of 26.3 minutes. Three per cent commute for more than 90 minutes, while 11 per cent spend more than an hour behind the wheel. The average journey time has increased by three minutes over the past decade, while high property prices are leading workers to commute long distances, rather than move home, experts said.

But despite a slew of innovations from manufacturers, modern cars still contort the body into undesirable positions.

Diane Gyi, a member of the research team at Loughborough, said that she hoped to publish guidelines for businesses and motorists by the end of next year. "Driving enforces a constrained posture, but in addition the car is increasingly being used as a mobile workplace," she said.

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