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Posted at: Jul 7, 2018, 12:23 AM; last updated: Jul 7, 2018, 12:23 AM (IST)WELLNESS

Cervical pain gets younger

This spinal problem is no more an elderly affair

Dr Ishwar Bohra

Pain of the cervical spine is often thought to be a problem affecting only the elderly. However, in recent years the patient profile is getting younger and younger. The incidence of cervical pain is rising. The main factor behind the increasing numbers is the changing lifestyles. This lifestyle-induced pain is now commonly seen in youngsters with desk jobs and/or sedentary lifestyles. 

The cervical spine is a complex structure of seven bones stacked on top of each other supporting the head that weighs six kg or more while it moves in several directions. Any pressure on these nerves can cause pain, numbness or discomfort which can be a symptom of some serious underlying problem. Some of the common symptoms of this problem include severe/shooting pain in neck, stiff shoulders and severe headache. 

Common causes

Once associated with ageing population, back/neck pain or cervical pain nowadays is caused and triggered due to our sedentary lifestyles. Long sitting hours in office or spent on various gadgets, using these gadgets sitting or lying in wrong posture, lack of physical work and exercise, stressful lives, etc are some major reasons. Smoking, obesity, incorrect posture such as standing or sitting with a hunched back, unbalanced diet, etc., too, are believed to cause cervical pain in neck and spine. 

The problem is also common among schoolchildren these days. It is largely caused due to carrying heavy school bags and the wrong habit of holding bags on one side of the shoulder. Besides these other lifestyle factors, some traumatic injury, infection or a congenital neck problem, etc., too, can cause cervical pain.  

Don’t ignore the discomfort  

Usually, the pain and discomfort caused due to cervical spine pain is extremely painful as the nerves of the spine become pinched or compressed. It may even make affected persons unable to work or carry on with their daily chores. The intense pain can also alter sleeping habits and posture and cause fatigue. It may lead to altered movements of the body. This can cause the spine to become imbalanced and increase the forces on spinal discs which can eventually result in injury to the discs of the spine or accelerate the degeneration of the spinal discs.

Any delay in seeking treatment for cervical pain or avoiding it for too long could turn the problem into something far more chronic such as sciatica, a major disc problem, degenerative arthritis of the spine, chronic pain, and numbness or tingling in or around arm and shoulder area, etc. In severe cases, it may even cause nerve compressions which may cause loss of bowel or bladder control. Besides, it may also lead to loss of flexibility, muscle strength and bone density of spine, etc.  

If a person ignores the condition for a long period, he/she may eventually require a surgery of cervical disc fusion or cervical disc replacement or other such corrective surgeries.        

Therefore, its advisable to see an orthopaedic doctor at the earliest. Normally, cervical pain, at its beginning stage, can be treated with physical therapy or medication. In case of prolonged illness, where complications have arisen from untreated back or neck injuries, a person may even require a surgery. However, it is crucial to diagnose the condition accurately as early as possible.

Lifestyle modifications

So as to avoid pain in cervical spine one must adhere and follow simple lifestyle modifications such as postural correction. Correcting your posture can greatly improve the strain on your neck and spine. At times, postural correction could be as simple as performing daily exercises to strengthen the spine and align your body. Besides, ergonomic seating at workspace, taking a small break while doing a sitting job after an interval of 45 minutes and adopting healthy eating habits, etc can also aid your corrective measures. 

Tips to avoid cervical spine pain

Correcting your posture can greatly improve the strain on your neck and spine.

Make sure your computer monitor or your laptop screen is at eye level.

Eat healthy and stay hydrated to nourish your spinal discs.

Avoid using too stiff or high pillows while sleeping. You may consider using cervical pillows with memory foam.  

Keep your neck muscles strong by exercising and stretching your neck regularly. 

Always keep your spine straight while standing.  Avoid incorrect posture such as standing with a hunched back.

Avoid neck strain while using smartphone. Its advisable to use the handsfree feature for making long calls.

— The writer is an orthopaedic surgeon, BLK Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi

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