Spondylosis – Can You Prevent it?
Can you prevent spondylosis?
If you pose this question to somebody, a positive answer will be, “Yes. One can enjoy the benefits of a healthy spine at any age.” However, in any disease, prevention is better than cure and this holds good for spondylosis too. This is more so, because of the contents of the vertebral column– spinal cord and spinal nerve roots, are very important.
What is spondylosis?
Spondylosis is a degenerative process of the different components of a vertebra,be it the facet joint or end plates or intervertebral disc or ligaments. The consequence of wear and tear during old age might result in spondylosis. Many people may have spondylosis to some degree; but the symptoms are present depending on how severe are the degenerative changes and where the spondylosis has affected the vertebra.
Different pathologic entities include disc prolapse, narrowed root canal, narrowed spinal canal, narrowed foramina, thickened ligaments, ossified ligaments, and hypertrophied bones. Cervical spondylosis refers to involvement of cervical vertebrae and lumbar spondylosis refers to involvement of lumbar vertebrae. An interesting observation on the disc degeneration is its association with smokers. Smoking decreases water content of the disc material and with less water content, the disc can wear out sooner; this is another genuine health reason to stop smoking.
What does it produce?
Spondylosis is a common clinical entity in neurology. Depending on the site of spondylosis, the symptoms can be present in neck, mid back or low back, upper limbs or lower limbs. Advanced spondylosis produces compression of spinal nerve roots, spinal cord and ischemia of spinal
cord and all of them cause severe disabling symptoms like pain, weakness of limbs, numbness etc. In cervical spondylosis, the pain is in the neck and may radiate to upper limbs, and if severe, one can become quadriplegic. In lumbar spondylosis, the pain is in lower back and may radiate to lower limbs, and if severe, it can produce paralysis of muscles of lower limbs. Usually pain and stiff back especially in the morning are common complaints. As this is a degenerative process, multiple vertebrae are involved. Repetitive movements like bending and lifting may increase the pain.
How to treat?
When symptoms are mild, a little bed rest and exercises will be sufficient. If the symptoms are severe or persisting, then investigations are necessary. With widespread availability of MRI scan, diagnosis is easy and depending on the condition, treatment plan is drawn. When medical management is not helping in relieving symptoms, then a variety of surgical procedures are available, using modern gadgets like image guidance, operative microscope, spinal instrumentation etc. The surgical procedures include different procedures like discectomy, decompression, disc replacement following discectomy, spinal instrumentation procedures, and these procedures aim at relieving the compression of nerve roots and spinal cord and at stabilizing vertebrae if necessary. When diagnosed early and treated, the patient has good relief. A word of caution is necessary here: numbness is a late finding in spondylotic disc disease and indicates fairly advanced compression; the patient must not neglect numbness and delay the consultation. If so, the recovery may take a long time.
One cannot stop the body from getting old, but the spine can be maintained to be as healthy as possible by taking a variety of preventive steps against spondylosis. Some of them are:
- Adopt a correct posture while sitting and standing
- Maintain a normal body weight
- Exercise regularly to keep the different spinal joints in full functional mobility
- Eat a low fat, well balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, proteins and minerals
- Learn to lift weights without bending too much
- Take adequate rest
- Stop smoking
- Avoid extreme spinal movements (too much flexion or too much extension of either neck or low back)
- Avoid prolonged standing
- Avoid high impact activities like jogging, running, if one has neck pain or back pain
- Take breaks on and off while working on a computer or driving to keep from holding head in the same position for a long period
- Avoid rotational spine movement; a hard bed with a thin pillow is good during sleep
- Follow spinal exercises as advised by a physiotherapist; simple low impact activities like swimming, walking and yoga are beneficial
- Use the right equipment and techniques while playing sports.