Our neck is a major support system of the entire body. The flexibility of our neck is amazing. We can turn our neck up, down, left, right, just about anywhere.
What a sight it is to watch our favourite Bollywood film stars dancing to loud music – the wild turning and twisting of their hips, legs, arms and neck! Isn’t that what draws us to the cinema halls every Friday? The musical extravaganza that punctuates the intense drama of our Indian movies is worth every whistle, what say?! How do they do it while a large number of us find it difficult to even more our neck without pain?
When the cartilage and the neck bones begin to wear off due to long working hours causing stress to the neck bone or sudden trauma, it spells the beginning of cervical spondylosis commonly known as neck pain.
Just like the rest of the body, the neck bones too start to degenerate with passing age. Cervical spondylosis (also known as cervical osteoarthritis) is arthritis of the neck. It is most common in the elderly and has been found to affect more than 85% of people who are over 60 years but also affects people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Fortunately, it does not cause disability or leave one crippled but mars the movement of the neck and causes vertigo (while bending down), which can be quite disturbing in our day to day life.
So whether you are a teenager, adult, sportsperson or an ordinary man or woman in mid-40s and mid-50s and no matter the profession, it is time to know the causes of cervical spondylosis and how it can be avoided with proper precautions and natural remedies.
What leads to Cervical Spondylosis
Although ageing is a big risk factor causing Cervical Spondylosis, there are other lifestyle-related reasons that can cause this ailment.
- Being overweight
- Long work hours at the computer which restricts free neck movement
- Lack of exercise for the neck
- Neck injury in the past
- Spinal surgery in the past
- Slipped or ruptured disk
- Severe arthritis
- Working in a profession that requires lot of twisting and bending
- Possibility of small fractures to the spine caused by osteoporosis
Symptoms of Cervical Spondylosis
Some of the problems that lead to neck pain look minor at the starting phase but over a period of time, they begin to take a heavy toll on the cervical health.
- Radiating pain from neck
- Stiffness and numbness in the neck
- Burning sensation on the neck
- Dizziness and loss of balance
The pain starts from the neck and travels over the shoulder blade, gradually spreads to the upper arm and to the forearm and right down to the fingers. The pain gets worse after sitting, standing, or walking for long hours or when you bend or turn your neck.
Common problems include stiffness and numbness in the neck and headaches that usually occur in the back of the head. At times, it can lead to loss of balance.
Medical Examination and Tests
A physical examination done by a doctor in such a situation shows up two things generally – trouble in rotation of head and weakened movement of neck towards the shoulder. When asked to bend your head forward and to each side, you will feel increased pain and numbness. All these are signs of damage to nerve roots in the neck or the spinal cord.
Your doctor may suggest a spinal or neck x-ray to assess the extent of arthritis or changes in the spine.
MRI of the neck is only done when you are facing the following problems:
- Intolerable pain in the neck or arm, which is not improving even a bit after treatment
- Numbness in the hands or arms
Depending on the extent of the pain, an EMG (electromyography) may be done to examine the functioning of the nerve roots.
In order to manage the neck pain better, your doctor will refer you to a physical therapist who will teach you some exercises to strengthen your neck muscles.
Acupressure, done by a qualified therapist, might also work for you. Cold packs and heat therapy can ease flare-ups.
Your doctor will also suggest anti-inflammatory and pain medication to reduce the inflammation but remember that drugs can only act as a temporary stop gap arrangement and cannot resolve the problem. If you get used to pain medication, it can only cause more harm as you risk straining the neck muscles further as you won’t feel the pain.
In extreme cases, if there is complete loss of movement, surgery may be recommended to ease the pressure on the nerves and the spinal cord.
Gentle Neck Exercises for Pain Relief
Neck exercises, when done slowly and very gently, can be very beneficial and can offer almost instant pain relief.
- Sit or stand straight with spine erect.
- Gently turn your neck to the right and bring it back to the centre. Repeat on the other side.
- Bend your neck back very gently and bring it back up and bend it forwards and back.
- Bend your neck sidewards to the left like your ear is being pulled down and then sidewards to the right and back.
- Gently rotate your neck in a clockwise and anticlockwise pattern.
Repeat this entire exercise three times.
Remember to keep your movements very slow and gentle. You will get instant relief from the pain. Do this exercise at least thrice a day and whenever you feel the beginnings of pain in the neck. Don’t wait till the pain gets worse. Just stop whatever you are doing and do these gentle neck exercises.
If you are used to a sedentary lifestyle, you need to make some changes if you want to find a permanent solution to your problem. Walking, bicycling and swimming are safe exercises that you can do in the early hours of the morning, evening or over the weekend.
Diet Recommendations for Cervical Spondylosis
- Eat raw vegetable salads made of tomato, lettuce, cucumber, carrot, cabbage, radish and fruits
- Bitter vegetables such as bitter drumstick, neem flowers and bitter gourd.
- Instead of rice, take more of wheat but avoid consuming refined wheat in the form of maida (flour) and suji (semolina)
- Avoid spicy, fatty, oily and sour foods (such as curd), sugar, sweets, condiments and beverages such as tea and coffee and tobacco
- For the development of a healthy bone matrix, take proteins, vitamin C, calcium (found in milk and milk products), phosphorus in good measures
- Garlic has a lot of potential in treating spondylosis of the neck. Take 3 garlic pods each morning on a daily basis for best results
- Mix lemon juice and a pinch of table salt and take it twice or thrice daily
Natural Remedies for Cervical Spondylosis
- Fry 10 garlic cloves in about 60 grams of oil slowly till it turns brown. Wait for it to cool down and then strain the oil and apply it liberally over the neck. Leave it on for minimum 3 hours and follow it up with a warm bath. Take this treatment daily for 15 days.
- Massaging your neck, shoulders and arms with oil followed by hot fomentation for 5-10 minutes two times a day
- Guggulu which is a gum resin extracted from the Commiphora mukul tree, is a known remedy for neck pain. Massage it over the neck and shoulder muscles twice a day.
- Triphala powder is a good medicine to treat neck pain. Mix 1 tsp of triphala with 1 cup warm milk and 1 spoon sugar and take it twice a week or more frequently if needed.
- Practise pranayama and meditation as this will help reduce tension in the neck area.
Sitting and Sleeping Positions for Neck Relief
See to it that you keep your spine straight, while sitting or standing. Change your sitting position often and avoid soft-cushioned seats and use only straight-backed chairs for work. Those of you who are bound to your desks, get up from your seat every hour, stretch your limbs and then sit down again.
Sleep on a firm mattress and use a thin firm pillow, especially if you are getting on in years.
Now that you have a list of exercises, diet recommendations, and natural remedies for treating cervical spondylosis, you can start on the road to complete recovery. If you are suffering from cervical spondylosis, share with us your experiences and how you deal with the pain.