It started as a slight pain in the neck, the kind you feel after a long and tiring day spent hunched over a computer. Journalist Nandini Singh didn’t pay it much attention at first and then, when it seemed to return at regular intervals but with increased intensity, all she did was pop a few painkillers.
But when the pain extended to her shoulder, then arm and then hand, she grew alarmed. "I couldn’t function without painkillers and that didn’t make sense," says Nandini.
A visit to her doctor and a few tests later, Nandini learned what the pain was all about. She was diagnosed with cervical spondylosis that had spread from the back of her neck to the entire arm. Cervical spondylosis is not a rare condition at all – in fact, it’s seen as part of the ageing process. But it’s becoming increasingly common, and what is worse, many of the people afflicted are only in their 20s.
No Looking Back
"All of us develop a degree of degeneration in the spine and inter-vertebral discs as we become older," explains Dr Harsh Vardhan Hedge, senior consultant, Orthopaedics, Fortis Healthcare, Delhi. "As the discs degenerate over the years, they become thinner. The nearby muscles, ligaments, and nerves may become irritated by these degenerative changes which can cause symptoms like pain in the neck (cervical spondylosis) or pain in the lower back (lumbar spondylosis)."
According to Dr Hegde, there has been an eight to ten per cent increase in the number of spondylosis patients in their 20s and an almost 15 per cent increase among people in their 30s.
"The reason for the sudden acceleration in the numbers can be attributed to factors like work environment," he says. "Today, a majority of us are confined to our desks for long, often irregular hours and so we don’t get natural sunlight that is so essential for the bones. (Sunlight is a good source of vitamin D.) On top of this, an almost sedentary lifestyle combined with factors like smoking, stress and unhealthy food make our muscles weak quite early in life."
Women once were more prone to cervical spondylosis than men, adds Dr Hegde, but today men are equally vulnerable.
Apart from our work environments, neck pain can also be caused by an injury, muscular problem or by a trapped nerve between the vertebrae, explains Dr Manoj Sharma, head of the department of orthopaedics at Jaipur Golden Hospital.
But primarily, it’s caused by bad posture. "Inappropriate working or sleeping postures can put a lot of pressure on the spine, and that can result in pain," says Dr Sharma. "Even people who usually ride two-wheelers are at risk, as their posture while driving is usually not correct."
Both cervical and lumbar spondylosis can be caused by bad posture, according to Dr Sharma. "We usually slouch, and we tend to sit in this same slouched position for hours at work, which only aggravates the problem," he explains. "Similarly, we don’t sleep straight which puts extra pressure on the spine and results in pain in the lower back. We even bend in a wrong way and that strains the spine again. The correct way to bend is from the knees."
Get a fix
Exercise seems to be extremely beneficial in relieving the pain of both conditions, along with certain precautions like better posture, regular breaks from work and no sudden jerks.
"Hot fomentation at the area of pain can also help take care of the inflammation," says Dr Bipin Walia, senior consultant, neurological surgery and head of spinal surgery, Max Healthcare, Delhi. "Cold conditions can increase the pain in some cases. Increase physical activity – walk for at least 40 minutes regularly – to help strengthen the muscles. Always use a pillow while sleeping, one that is neither too hard or too thick. Avoid lifting heavy weights. Those suffering from obesity or diabetes need to be extra careful."
If the pain spreads down to the arm or the back, physiotherapy is recommended. "It is a long-term solution," says Dr Sharma. "Regular isometric exercises, avoiding looking down for too long, and skipping are also advised. An increased intake of calcium through milk and other dairy products is also helpful."
1 Headaches from time to time. The headaches often start at the back of the head, just above the neck, and travel to the forehead.
Pain in the neck
In cervical spondylosis, pain in the neck is caused by ageing, long hours at work and lack of exercise. It could spread to the base of the skull and shoulders. Sometimes it could also spread down the arm to the hand or fingers. Movement of the neck may worsen the pain.
2 A stiff neck, particularly after a night’s rest
3 Numbness, pins and needles or weakness may occur in part of the arm or hand. In some cases, you may feel a slight dizziness when you put your head down
Give exercise a chance
Here are a few simple exercises you can do anywhere, anytime (even in office while sitting in your chair) to help you deal with that pain in the neck
1 Side rotation
Turn your head to the left slowly, wait for three seconds. Then repeat, this time turning your head to the right. Do this at least 5 times.
2 Chin up
Bend your head down slowly till your chin touches the chest. Rest. Raise your head slowly, stretching your neck as much as
possible. Rest. Do this at least five times. In case of neck pain, avoid looking down.
3 Press it
Place your hand on the side of your head. Try to move your head towards your hand; at the same time resist the pressure with your hand. Repeat, this time with the other hand. Then, place your hand at the back of your head, move your head back, and at the same time resist with your hand. Do the same with the forehead. Repeat all three times, hold till the count of 10.
Exercise info courtesy Ajay Dhamija, fitness manager, Amatrra Spa, Hotel Ashok, New Delhi.
Click here to follow some simple exercises
Pain in the back
Spondylosis which is also known as spinal osteoarthritis can affect the lumbar (lower back), thoracic (mid back) region besides the cervical (neck).
Ageing and bad posture cause the degeneration.
1 There could be pain and stiffness in the back or difficulty in walking.
2 Weakness, tenderness or numbness in the lower back, legs or feet.
3 Pain that decreases with rest or after exercise.
- From HT Brunch, February 6
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