How fine’s your spine?- The New Indian Express

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Express News Service

CHENNAI: The burden of back pain is staggering — a billion people are estimated to suffer from some kind of spinal pain and disability globally. Hence, the theme for World Spine Day this year was ‘Move Your Spine’, as lack of physical activity is the main driver of back pain. 

The spine is a column of 33 vertebral bones, with about 120 muscles attached to it, it gives our body a frame of support and houses the spinal cord within. Spinal nerves that direct and control our mobility emanate from the spine. Spinal pain can occur in any of the five regions — cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back), lumbar (lower back), sacrum, and coccyx (tailbone). Neck and lower back pain are more common due to the higher mobility and flexibility of these regions, leading to more strain injuries to muscles, ligaments, and discs. 

As such, pain and disability can cause muscle spasms, disc herniations, arthritis of facet joints, and pinched nerves. For many, improper posture is the reason for back pain. Avoiding sitting for prolonged periods can ease the pain. High-heeled footwear needs to be cast out. Addiction to mobile phones and electronic devices can put significant strain on the neck, leading to an overuse pain syndrome called ‘text neck’. 

Bulges of intervertebral discs can occur following lifting weights, pulling or pushing heavy objects, and sports injuries. This causes sudden back pain and numbness that may extend to the legs. These are often encountered in young adults. 

The elderly are more prone to pain from the narrowing of the spinal canal and its apertures due to age-related degenerative changes. Here, pain comes after walking for a short while. Back pain at night or rest needs to be assessed to rule out spinal infections like TB and cancers. Calcium deficiency can cause fractures in the spine in post-menopausal women. 

Any significant spinal pain lasting more than a few days needs to be discussed with a physician and appropriately investigated with X-rays, MRI, CT scans, PET scans and DEXA scans.

Once a diagnosis is established, most people may require only a course of medication. Some may require structured and short-course physiotherapy.  More severe pain may need surgical interventions. 
Spinal pain can be prevented by being active, exercising regularly, adopting good posture, eating healthy, stopping tobacco, and taking care while lifting weights. 

(The writer is senior consultant and HoD, Neurosurgery at Apollo Adlux Hospital, Angamaly, Kochi)

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