Large, unwieldy, unsteerable trolleys are causing chronic damage to the lower and upper backs of shoppers, contributing to a national epidemic of back problems.
The allegation was made by Alison Middleditch, who wrote the standard physiotherapy textbook on back pain. She was supported by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP), which called on supermarkets to take these dangers into account when designing new trolleys.
Mrs Middleditch issued her warning after seeing the damaging effects of trolleys at first hand.
"I saw three women last week who had suffered damage to their lower and upper backs after twisting round to control and steer their trolleys and bending over to unpack and pack their goods," she said. "The constant twisting and bending places strains on the spine and can lead to damage to the ligaments and discs.
"We have definitely seen an increase in these problems, especially among women, who do most of the shopping. They really are at risk and it is the design of the trolley which is causing the problem. The whole shopping experience needs to be looked at to prevent this happening."
Doctors deal with 12 million consultations for back pain every year and the problem costs the NHS pounds 500m in prescriptions, physiotherapy and other treatments.
More than 300,000 working days are lost to industry each year due to back pain, at a cost of pounds 1.3bn.
A spokeswoman for the CSP said: "There are problems with the big supermarket trolleys because people have to twist round and bend down to get to the bottom of them and cannot bend their knees to do so. We would like to see supermarkets conducting ergonomic tests on new trolleys to rectify this problem."
The physiotherapists called for better steering control, shallower trolleys and help with packing and unpacking.
But a spokeswoman for Asda said: "In the design of our latest main trolley we have taken everything into account to ensure that it is as ergonomically friendly as possible - including the depth and width. Our customers were also involved in the design and testing stages of the trolley."Reuse content