FORMULA ONE racing drivers are facing a new peril - they are at risk from Repetitive Strain Injury, a condition more commonly seen in office workers and machine operators.
Almost two-thirds of the 22 drivers and former drivers tested at last year's French Grand Prix were found to have symptoms of RSI, which can cause permanent disability.
The drivers were examined by doctors from the Hopital Bichat Hand Surgery Service in Paris, who found 14 of the 22 reported pain or tenderness and numbness in the fingers at the end of a race. In the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Dr Emmanuel Masmejean and colleagues say that although the disorder is not unexpected in a sport that involves long hours spent gripping a vibrating steering wheel while operating controls with the fingers, its frequency is worrying.
The introduction of semi-automatic gears in 1991, operated with the middle finger of the right hand, may have aggravated the problem. The incidence of wrist and hand problems among sportsmen and women in the general population is estimated to be 25 per cent compared with the 63 per cent found among the drivers.
The high vibrations and repeated use of the wrist and fingers in Formula One racing can induce compression of the nerves, stretching of the ligaments and pain in the wrist joints, the researchers say. The drivers tested, whose average age was 30, had raced in between seven and 176 Formula One grands prix.
The French researchers suggest that the Formula One drivers should wear wrist pads to cushion their hands against the steering wheel and minimise the long-term damage caused by the vibration.
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