What can be done to prevent spondylosis? Experts suggest lifestyle modifications

Like the onset of wrinkles and greying hair, spondylosis or degeneration of the vertebrae that protects our spine is part of the inevitable aging process though it can happen to younger people with faulty lifestyle habits or a genetic predisposition. Apparently, by the time we enter our forties, our vertebrae begin to degenerate and wear away. To compensate for this, new bone is formed. Unfortunately, the new bone forms in an irregular manner and compresses the underlying nerves, leading to varied effects.

Studies reveal that in roughly 6 per cent of all people aged over 40, spondylosis becomes symptomatic, 6 per cent more getting added to the group, with each further decade of aging. “The effects range from restricted neck movement, neck pain, lower back pain, vertigo (giddiness), sudden blackouts and falls to headaches, tingling sensation in the hands and legs because of spinal cord compression, pain going down the arm or leg or while gripping objects, pain while executing simple coordinated activities such as walking, tying a shoelace or maintaining balance, and, in extreme cases, progressive paralysis,” says Dr. Sajan K Hegde, senior consultant spine surgeon and head, spine department, Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, and Dr. Venkateswara Prasanna, consultant neurosurgeon and minimal invasive brain and spine surgeon, Fortis Malar.

Genetic predisposition

Meanwhile, spondylosis carries a genetic baggage too. Some of us are more prone to it than others. “More women are affected by spondylosis than men, because of the hormonal changes caused by menopause, which makes them especially vulnerable to osteoporosis. Remember, osteoporosis triggers spondylosis,” Dr. Prasanna adds.

People in their 30s and 40s too can get affected by spondylosis, with a smaller localised area getting affected. “Cervical spondylosis in younger people may be because of degeneration of one segment of the vertebra, or perhaps because of harmful lifestyle practices,” says Dr. Hegde. This includes continuous straining of the neck while sitting in front of the computer and multitasking while on the mobile phone, when we tend to wedge the phone between the neck and shoulder. “We definitely see more and more people in IT and call centre jobs and journalism complaining of cervical spondylosis, shoulder stiffness, pain in the neck, etc. They should remember to take frequent short breaks in between work to get up, move about and stretch the neck and limbs,” he recommends.

Hazard to bikers

Regularly riding a bike on bad roads puts unusual stress on the lower back and this can lead to lower back spondylosis. “Especially, bikes which force a person to bend forward and drive are particularly harmful. The seat of the bike should be reasonably low, allowing the rider to sit upright and drive with shoulders straight,” Dr. Hegde advises.

Exercise effectively limits the progress of spondylosis by strengthening the muscles, which, in turn, prevents rubbing of the vertebra. “Physical activities such as yoga, playing a sport, aerobics, martial arts, or at least regular and vigorous walking will help halt not only spondylosis, but also diabetes, blood pressure and other age-related ailments,” recommends Dr. Malathy, general physician. And since a sedentary life triggers spondylosis, the aim should be to live a more active life and ensure correct posture all through the day.

For instance, those working at computers should choose a table and chair such that they do not have to crane their neck to look at the monitor. Likewise the bed used should be firm and hard, not squishy and soft. Lumps in the bed are not good for our vertebra either. “While it is all right to use a pillow, it should be positioned below the shoulder, neck and the head, not just the neck and the head, which causes the neck vertebra to arch up, and that could be painful,” says Dr. Prasanna.

Then, of course, eating calcium-rich food is crucial. This includes milk, spinach and green leafy vegetables, fruits, and fish and eggs, for those who are non-vegetarian. Getting enough sunlight exposure is a must too, so that the body has enough vitamin D so essential for strong bones. And finally, quit smoking. We don’t know how exactly, but smoking definitely aggravates spondylosis. “This is because nicotine puts a spoke in the body’s healing process,” says Dr. Prasanna, while Dr. Hegde mentions, “Smoking causes constriction of blood vessels retarding the removal of harmful substances from the body. That is why a smoker takes longer to recover from back surgery or tends to have more severe bouts of back pain, than a non-smoker.”

DOS AND DON’TS

* Get some physical exercise every day.

* Make your lifestyle less sedentary.

* Quit smoking.

* Ensure proper positioning of neck and back all day through.

* Use a firm bed.

* Use appropriate pillows; let the pillows support the shoulder, neck and head, not just the neck and head.

* Include calcium-rich food in your diet.

* Get adequate sunlight exposure.

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