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How to avoid back pain due to unscientific speed breakers
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How to avoid back pain due to unscientific speed breakers

Frequent jerks due to poorly designed speed breakers cause pressure on the spine, leading to pain in the neck and back, say experts
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K / Happiest Health

Speed breakers are commonly used to increase the safety of pedestrians by controlling traffic and speeding vehicles. But do they end up causing more harm instead? The data about back pain and speed breakers seems to suggest so.

Indore-based physiotherapist Arefa Ali says, “I have seen a significant increase in chronic back pain cases in people in the 25 to 45 age group who drive daily.”

According to a study published by the National Institute of Health, sitting on a motor vehicle, particularly on the last row of the bus, when passing over a speed hump may cause severe traumatic spine injuries. Such fractures occur more frequently at the thoracolumbar junction, and treatment may require surgery.

Unscientific speed breakers: The real problem?

While the intention of building speed breakers remains undisputed, the data indicates a problem with the way speed breakers are built.

When the Indian Road Congress, a technical body of highway engineers that lays down design standards for roads and highway construction, legalized speed breakers in 1992, they put specific guidelines in place. “The speed breakers should have a height of 10cm with a 1.5-metre ramp on both sides. The sign should have a definition plate with the words ‘SPEED BREAKER’ inscribed and be located 40m before the first speed breaker. They should be painted with alternate black and white bands to give additional visual warning. They should be maintained at regular intervals by removing the mud or dust and repainting the markings on them.”

However, these rules are often disregarded — and most speed breakers motorists encounter are too steep and without markers and sign boards.

Shamant Trivedi, a marketing executive from Chennai, complains that regular commuters are the biggest victims of this negligence. Trivedi says he unusually encounters high and uneven speed breakers that hurt his back every time he drives over them.

Siji Verghese, chief physiotherapist and co-founder of Credence Physio clinic, Bangalore, agrees that unscientific speed breakers are one of the major causes of backache and spine injuries.

However, Dr Umesh Srikantha, head of spine services at Aster RV Hospitals, Bangalore, says that the fault is not only in the way the speed breaker is designed but also in the way people ride.

How does your back get affected?

“Frequent jerks due to poorly designed speed breakers cause pressure on the spine, which leads to pain or tenderness in the neck and middle or lower back,” says Verghese. If a person at high speed misses a speed breaker by mistake, it may even cause a compression fracture or shift of intervertebral discs, which act as a cushion between two bones (vertebrae) of the spine. This kind of change internally can lead to serious long-term consequences, she adds.

Dr Srikantha clarifies that in normal people the disc doesn’t get significantly affected but people with a prior weakness in that area should be very careful. “One should not only be cautious about sudden jerks when landing from speed breakers but also be mindful of repetitive stress (prolonged exposure) that may impact the spine and result in chronic pain,” he adds.

Saving your back from unscientific speed breakers

According to Dr Srikantha, driving slowly and carefully is the golden rule for saving the back and protecting the spine from unscientific speed breakers. “If the driver takes care and goes slowly, then it wouldn’t affect much — no matter how bad the roads may be,” he says.

He points out that the type of vehicle and wheel size also matter. The pressure exerted on the back by a four-wheeler is comparatively lesser than a two or a three-wheeler — as it gets evenly distributed over four wheels. Additionally, the smaller the wheel size, the higher the pressure transmitted to the person — as vehicles with smaller wheels ride more awkwardly over speed breakers due to their bad suspension.

Dr Srikantha, therefore, considers cars to be a safer option to commute than bikes or auto-rickshaws. For those who have no option but to use bikes, he suggests compensating by exercising regularly to strengthen the core muscles so that they can withstand the pressures over a long period.

Verghese emphasizes correct positioning on the seat and advises that one should keep the back straight and avoid a hunching position. In case of long drives, she advises taking breaks and giving rest to the body as recurrent cumulative stress can cause internal tissue damage. She also recommends stretching as a good way to keep the back healthy.

Treating back pain due to speed breakers

Dr Srikantha says it is a common misconception that wearing a belt will help. Belts are worn around the waist but in a bike, the pressure is transmitted in a vertical direction. Hence, wearing a belt may not help the lower back.

He advises exercising or consulting a physiotherapist for interferential or ultrasound therapy, which are non-invasive physical therapies for pain relief.

Dr Srikantha says medications are not a good option, especially if the pain is chronic. He recommends seeing a doctor if there is no relief from symptoms.

Takeaways

  • Unscientific speed breakers can cause back pain.
  • Repeated driving over such speed breakers causes unwanted pressure on the vertebrae.
  • The speed while driving, type of vehicle, and wheel size matter.
  • Driving carefully, exercising and physiotherapy can help reduce back pain.

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