In the driver’s seat

In the driver’s seat
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First Published: Tue, Jul 28 2009. 12 55 AM IST

Updated: Tue, Jul 28 2009. 12 55 AM IST
The patient: Karthik Mariswamy, 34, lies on a mat, lifts his left leg, then his right. Every morning, he spends 10 minutes strengthening his leg, abdomen and back muscles. For six months, he had pain in his left leg. Two months ago, it was diagnosed as sciatica, pain in the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back to the leg.
The problem: Driving. Mariswamy drives 30km a day from his home (Banashankari, south Bangalore) to work (Bagmane Tech Park, east Bangalore), slouched over the steering wheel of his sporty Maruti Swift hatchback. This strains his back and left leg, which applies the clutch.
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The (partial) solution: Mariswamy does his daily exercises and uses a lumbar support cushion to buttress his lower back while driving. However, this senior manager with a multinational networking company has developed a distaste for driving, “I don’t feel like going out because going out involves driving.”
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Car crisis
Driving is responsible for a substantial proportion of back pain and repetitive stress injury (RSI) cases. The Bangalore-based Recoup Neuromusculoskeletal Rehabilitation Centre treats 400 patients with musculoskeletal disorders every day; half of them have driving-related injuries. Deepak Sharan, consultant, orthopaedics, rehabilitation and ergonomics, and medical director, Recoup, lists the most common ones:
Myofascial pain syndrome: chronic localized pain in the neck, upper and lower back.
?Thoracic outlet syndrome: abnormal blood flow to the arms, causing tingling in the fingers.
?Patellofemoral pain syndrome: affects the area around the kneecap.
Dr Sharan also names eye strain, myofascial pain syndrome in the thigh and ankle, and tendonitis, leading to wrist pain. The telltale sign—pain which worsens progressively with driving but subsides later.
Who gets the roughest ride?
Most of these ailments are more common in professionals who drive for a couple of hours every day and in commercial vehicle drivers, a result of prolonged sitting in a vehicle—with compression of the spine, lack of adequate support for the back and thighs, and wrong posture. Potholed and congested roads aggravate matters, as one repeatedly needs to apply the clutch and brakes.
Driving the pain away
Treatment, consisting of exercises and posture correction, lasts for months. “There is no one single solution,” says Rajat Chauhan, CEO and medical director, Back 2 Fitness, a New Delhi-based chain of injury prevention, rehabilitation and performance enhancement clinics. “It’s important to apply all suggestions as we are looking for many small changes to make a difference,” he adds.
Make it a smooth ride
Keep moving: Postural fixity, or holding the same posture, can aggravate musculoskeletal problems, says Russell Marshall, lecturer, design ergonomics group, department of design and technology, Loughborough University, the UK, in an email. Be it at your workstation or in your car, sitting can hurt.
Kindly adjust: All cars should have seat and steering height, tilt and fore-aft adjustment; only higher-end vehicles do, with little guidance from makers on how to use them. There’s also no guidance on buying the appropriate car, says Steve Summerskill, lecturer, design ergonomics group, department of design and technology, Loughborough University. In hindsight, given his 5ft 6-inch built, Mariswamy thinks a tall-boy model such as the Hyundai Santro would have suited him better than a low-lying Swift.
Request repair: Indian roads are spine-unfriendly, says Bharati Jajoo, co-founder and occupational therapist, Ergoworks, a Bangalore-based occupational health and safety company. You can only lobby for change.
Choose with care: Manufacturers bring international models to India without customizing physical dimensions, says A.K. Das, head, department of design, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati. “Most cars are made for European or Japanese body dimensions,” says Das. So the relative position of the pedals, seat, gearbox and steering wheel can lead to strain. Pune-based industrial research body Automotive Research Association of India has embarked on an India-specific anthropometric study. To be completed by March, it may help manufacturers suit cars to Indian body types.
Experts: Dr Bharati Jajoo, Ergoworks; Dr Deepak Sharan, Recoup; Dr Rajat Chauhan, Back 2 Fitness
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First Published: Tue, Jul 28 2009. 12 55 AM IST