Many people after 35-40 years of age, particularly office workers start complaining of pain in the neck and/or pain in one or both arms, hands, fingers or shoulders. This pain commonly comes after working continuously for some time. They may also have abnormal sensations like tingling, numbness, e.t.c. in their limbs.
One of the main reason for these complaints is “cervical spondylosis”. “Cervical spondylosis”, is a condition of de- generation of the spine in the neck. Though it occurs due to advancing age, it appears early in life as compared to other degenerative changes because the neck is a very delicate part. It supports the head and is put through a lot of movement and stress with the head movements for practically all day time activities of a person.
Reading or writing for long hours continuously with the neck bent makes one more prone to cervical spondylosis. Working on a computer for a long time also increases the risk. Cervical spondylosis is the result of all these activities. Using high pillows while sleeping also exposes one to the risk of cervical spondylosis. With a high pillow, the alignment of the spine at neck does not remain level with the rest of the spine thus putting it to stress.
As the neck is subjected to stress for multiple reasons, space between the vertebrae (bones of the joints of the spine) is reduced, thus causing pain in the neck on movement. Small new bones called osteophytes are formed between the vertebrae. Compression of nerves by these osteophytes is the cause of numbness, tingling and pain in the affected area. The symptoms may be felt in the neck, shoulders, upper back, arms, forearms, fingers or hands depending on the location of the osteophytes.
At times carotid arteries that supply blood to the brain may be compressed by the osteophytes or reduced space between vertebrae, causing dizziness while walking. One may also get paralysis of up- per and/or lower limbs due to blood supply to the brain being curtailed. These symptoms also depend on the site of degenerative changes in the neck. Damage higher up in the neck can involve all 4 limbs, whereas changes in the middle or lower part of neck can manifest as more localized problems in the limbs. Blood supply to the inner part of the ear may be com- promised by the osteophytes, causing dizziness and tinnitus, i.e. hearing abnormal sounds inside the ear.
Cervical spondylosis cannot be cured by medication, all that can be done is prevent further progress. The first
useful step to remove high pillows while sleeping. Ideally, “no pillow”, is best, but if necessary, one should use a very thin, hard and even pillow. Avoid bending the neck while working. For example, during reading and writing one can place the book/copy at the level of the eyes. Similarly, turn round completely to look back instead of turn- ing just the neck.
Calcium supplements are useful to prevent and reduce osteoporosis. If neck exercises are done regularly they are also very useful for those who suffer from spondylosis. Exercise helps to retain flexibility of the neck and pre- vents further progression of spondylosis.
Those suffering from severe spondylosis are advised to wear a cervical collar. This supports the neck and minimizes movement which gives relief from pain and other troublesome symptoms. Cervical spondylosis is a change that occurs with aging in some people and with pre- cautions, one can lead a near to normal life even with the condition.
Dr. Rachna Pande is a specialist in Internal medicine at Ruhengeri Hospital
E-mail – rachna212002@yahoo. co.uk