Beware! Potholes can hurt your neck, back

Many Nigerians believe that the deplorable condition of Nigerian roads, especially in the commercial cities, has contributed immensely to the stunted growth our economy has witnessed over the years.

In many parts of this country, normal interaction has been frustrated by potholes as well as haphazardly placed speed breakers of all shapes and sizes. Vehicle owners are in distress as their vehicles are not used optimally.


Problem of bad roads

Moreover, it is common for thieves, rapists and other miscreants to ensconce themselves in bad portions of the roads where all vehicles virtually come to a halt.

President and Chief Executive Officer of Dangote Industries Limited, Aliko Dangote  at the inauguration of the 24km Itori-Ibese Concrete Road in Ewekoro Local Government Area of Ogun State, said that Nigeria loses $1bn (about N400bn) annually due to poor condition of roads in the country.

Unfortunately, potholes and haphazardly placed speed breakers have become a health hazard for many road users, including commercial motorcyclists and two-wheeler riders.

From cuts, bruises and wounds to serious and chronic back and neck-related pain, poor condition of roads has become an imminent threat to road users.

For instance, scientists from the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) in Bengaluru, India, took up a project to assess the damage to spine while travelling on road in a car and a two-wheeler rider. They found that a car driven continuously at just 25 kilometres per hour over 40 to 50 bumps or around 200 potholes would be enough to cause a spinal injury.


Back problems galore

Occupational driving has been associated with high prevalence of musculoskeletal pain (MSP) and low back pain. In fact, studies from different parts of Nigeria indicated that low back pain is experienced more by commercial motor drivers than private automobile drivers.

Also, office-goers, particularly those travelling long distances daily and doing little exercise face increased risk.

“Back pain looks like a complaint, but its causes are myriad, including prolonged trauma to the back, say from bad roads and potholes,” said Professor Ade Malomo, a neurosurgeon at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State.

According to Professor Malomo, “Small repeated abuse of the back from travelling on a bad road can cause injury to the back and then the attendant back pain.”

The low back is susceptible to injury (pain) because it supports most of the body weight. Prolonged sitting, being sedentary, long driving time, some infections and abnormal growth in the back are some of the risk factors to developing low back pain.

Although some low back pains are due to problems of abnormal development in the womb that show up later when a person is grown up, he declared that bad car seats can also give rise to an aching back strain, excess fatigue and extra stress on the neck and back.

He added, “That is why when travelling a long distance, especially if you are elderly, you have to keep exercising your legs. Otherwise, back pain will be the least of your problem.

“But if the seat is good and you maintain a good posture while sitting in the vehicle, the effect will be less than when the seat and posture are both bad.

“Ideally, there should “short breaks in between when travelling long distances both for the health of the passengers in the vehicle and its driver to relax and stretch out.”

How the backbone gets affected

The backbone consists of multiple bones and joints and is designed to remain stable and, at the same time, also flexible. Over a period of time, these joints start to wear out and if subjected to multiple jerks, can cause problems.

That is exactly what happens when there is repeated travelling over potholes or bumps. The backbone is subjected to multiple stress in a short duration, leading to muscle spasm and sometimes slip disc (prolapse intervertebral disc). This may occur in the neck region (cervical spondylosis) or lower back region (lumbar spondylosis).

Dr Yetunde Abiola Kuyinu, a community health expert, at the Department of Community Health and Primary Health Care, Lagos State University College of Medicine Hospital, Ikeja also warns that regular commuting on potholes or bumps can also worsen back pains.

“A person with back pain is supposed to sit on the chair with his back straight. But then, when travelling on a bad road or bumps, the galloping can worsen it.”

Dr Kuyinu also added that bad road is a risk factor for back pain and that is why long distance drivers, including commercial drivers stand a higher risk of developing back pain compared to other people.



Communing long distances on a bad road also comes with a lot of stress. World over, long trips comes with a lot of stress, but the method of doing it healthy, he said is what everyone should learn and adopt.

Long-distance travel is associated with a group of transient negative effects, jointly referred to as ‘travel fatigue’, which result from anxiety about the journey, the change to an individual’s daily routine, stress, loneliness and even dehydration.

For instance, travel fatigue from air flight over several time zones, can last for over a week and can reduce performance and the motivation to train effectively.


Treatment for back pain

Experts say that back pain can be treated with medication to relieve the back muscle spasm followed by exercises to strengthen the muscles of the back that are prescribed by physiotherapists.  In very severe cases, a surgery could be required, said Professor Malomo.

Travelling tips

  • Motorists should keep their vehicles in a good condition with good shock absorbers, keep the speed limit low; always wear a seatbelt and a helmet if riding a two-wheeler or motorcycle.
  • Try to sit slightly away from the seat in the car or bus to avoid too much of a jerk.
  • Regular exercise to strengthen the back muscles.