The neck needs just as much care and attention as the rest of the body, but it is often neglected as we go about our hectic lives

You have important office work to complete, so for weeks, you are literally chained to a desk, hunched over a computer. You are too distracted by traffic to fasten your seat belt in the car; even your children bounce about without restraint in the front seat of a moving vehicle. Chores around the house involve you in regular bouts of twisting, turning, lifting and pulling. Rough roads, shoddy footwear, poor posture, constant jerk while commuting, especially on public transport: these are circumstances that we find ourselves in on a daily basis. Little do we realize that at these moments, we are very vulnerable to neck injury.

In the scheme of things, the neck may seem like such an unimportant part of your body, but keeping it supple and healthy is crucial to your wellbeing.

Know your neck

“It is rather unfortunate that our lifestyle and habits tend to place constant pressure on our neck,” says Dr J.K.B.C.Parthiban, Senior Consultant Neurosurgeon, specialist in Microsurgery and Spinal Surgery, practicing at Kovai Medical Centre, Coimbatore. "There are seven bones in our neck, each separated from the other by a cushioning disc. The health of this disc is important, because it is responsible for keeping the bones of the neck flexible. The outer covering of the disc is hard, but inside, there is a soft layer of tissue. However, due to general wear and tear, perhaps caused by a lifetime of excessive nodding and gesturing that is so much a part of our Indian culture, repetitive stress injuries, or just an inevitable outcome of old age, the soft tissue hardens and slowly begins to degenerate over time," says Dr Parthiban. However, even at this stage, it is possible to recover and keep the pain at bay.

Healing the hurt

Strengthen your neck with a simple exercise. “Rotate the head gently from side to side, upwards and downwards, (slowly and mildly) stretching it for a few minutes every day to strengthen the neck muscles. If these muscles are strengthened, the bones too will grow stronger. This exercise can be done anywhere, at any time. It is a simple, effective way to ensure the health of your neck,” says Dr Parthiban. “Yoga can also relieve neck strain--especially the suryanamaskar. Gentle massages are effective too.”

Exercise right

“Be cautious about over-straining while exercising, especially when lifting weights” says Deepak Mudaliar, a Chennai based fitness consultant and physiotherapist, specializing in sports medicine. “The neck is very vulnerable to injury. Few people realize that no matter what exercise you do, your neck should be at a 'neutral' level at all times. Keep the neck and shoulders relaxed, point the chin slightly upwards. The back of the neck should be smooth (no wrinkles) and aligned evenly with the spinal cord. Warming up from head to toe for at least five minutes before you exercise is also very important.”

Check for Tuberculosis of the neck

Hidden diseases that we never knew we had may also pose a threat. “Ever since Tuberculosis of the lungs was eradicated in India, the disease has been found dormant in our bones. Tuberculosis of the spine and neck has now become a common developing disorder, especially in patients with weak immune systems (such as the elderly, sick or those with compromised immunity such as HIV patients). This condition is characterized by severe and chronic pain in the neck and spine. It must be investigated and treated with medication immediately. Some cases may require surgical intervention,” says Dr Parthiban.

Alter your lifestyle

“Bikers should avoid choosing helmets that are too heavy because it can put undue pressure on the neck,” says Deepak Mudaliar. “Ensure that the pillow you sleep on is not too hard nor too soft. And it shouldn't raise your head at an uncomfortable angle.”Care for your neck and give yourself the gift of greater mobility and a pain-free life.

Cervical Disc Prolapse:

What you need to know:

Excruciating neck pain can often be a warning signal, an indication of a more serious condition called Cervical Disc Prolapse. “If you're experiencing intolerable pain for over three weeks, with numbness and a general weakness in the arms (that makes lifting even light objects difficult), immediate investigation is required,” says Dr Parthiban. “Cervical Disc Prolapse should be treated in a timely manner. If ignored, the condition could exacerbate and even cause the onset of paralysis.” Today, microsurgical techniques are available to relieve nerve compression and set a prolapsed disc right.