April 10, 2007 — -- The number of "extreme commuters," people who travel 90 minutes or more to work, is on the rise, and those long hauls are making some people sick.
Architect Bill Catron carpools an hour and a half each way to and from work. After 24 years of the commute, he needed back surgery. Catron said that he believes his commute caused his back problems.
"After you do it for a while you definitely begin to feel it," he said. "I'm certainly not the only one who's had that problem."
Catron is right. The spinal surgeon who operated on his back, Dr. Bob Squillante, is seeing more and more commuters complaining of neck and back pain.
"That's one of the worst things you can do, is sit in one position, not able to move," Squillante said. "To top that off, you're also vibrating and vibration is not good for your spine."
It's not just back problems. Long commutes contribute to higher blood pressure, breathing in more pollutants, and less sleep and exercise, which all mean more illness.
Experts who study commuting habits say it's only going to get worse.
"There's absolutely no question that the numbers are increasing for long distance commutes," said commuting expert Alan Pisarski.
Extreme commuting is growing four times as fast as general commuting. The number doubled in 10 years to 3.5 million.
The average U.S. commute time is 25 minutes. In Germany and Japan, the commutes are double that.
For Craton, his surgery was a success. He also exercises more and sits more upright during his commute, a drive he said he won't give up.