Ten years ago, Rajesh Kumar found himself in a strange predicament. Every time the advertising executive signed a cheque, it was discredited. And it was not because his account balance was nil, it was just that Kumar’s signatures never matched. He often suffered from severe neck pain, coupled with tingling weakness in his right arm.
A few months later, Kumar was diagnosed with spondylitis, and told that this was the cause of his handwriting changing every time. His doctor barred him from lifting anything heavy (8-10kg was the limit), put him on traction treatment for a week, banned him from driving for three months and prescribed painkillers. “The thing that irked me most was that I couldn’t lift my one-year-old son,” says Kumar.
After completing the traction treatment, Kumar started practising yoga, moved closer to his office to cut down on driving time and also paid attention to the way he sat in front of the computer.
Now the 40-year-old president, strategic planning at Ogilvy, New Delhi, whose condition was diagnosed in the later stages, has managed to control spondylitis. He continues with light exercises every day, avoids lifting heavy weights and takes regular breaks at work to prevent the nerves from bunching up in his neck. “It was a huge wake-up call for me. Now I ensure that everyone in my family follows proper lifestyle practices.”
Also See | Upper back and lower back exercises
As we age, the spinal joints—like other joints in the human body—go through a natural process of hypertrophy, where extra bone formations called osteophytes develop. While this happens in most people, it’s only in some cases that it is painful. The primary reason for this is an inactive lifestyle. “The human body is like a well-oiled machine, if one doesn’t use the machine it has the tendency to get rusty,” says Yash Gulati, senior consultant, orthopaedics, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi. He adds: “While earlier spondylitis was thought of as an age-related disease, now it is more common with younger executives in their 30s. Most young people are suffering with spondylitis due to bad postures and desk-bound work cultures.” Spondylitis essentially manifests itself when your spine is not flexible.
Save your spine
Usually the initial symptoms of spondylitis—mild pain around the neck or lower back after a day at the office and stiffness after a prolonged rest—are mild. However, it is wise to pay attention to them immediately.
These symptoms can intensify in the later stages, with the pain becoming worse and reaching the arms or legs due to nerves being compressed in the spine.
In the advanced stages of spondylitis, the extra bone formations (osteophytes) can also start pinching the nerves, leading to intense pain and weakness. When osteophytes form, they can make openings that hold nerves (in the spine) much smaller and may even press on the nerve, leading to tingling, numbness and weakness in the part of the body it connects to from the spine, according to the World Health Organization. For example, if a nerve is being pressed in the cervical (neck) area, one can experience pain, numbness and tingling in the upper arms or hands, just like Kumar. Similarly, if there is a nerve being pressed in the lumbar region, or lower back, it may lead to similar symptoms in the thigh, leg or foot.
Good posture while standing and sitting is invaluable. For conditions such as lumbar spondylitis (affecting the lower back), weight reduction is essential. “If there is one word to prevent this problem, it is activity—swimming, yoga, do stretching,” says Dr Gulati.
A simple guide to correct posture
• The correct posture prescribed while working on a computer is to sit on a chair with adequate back support and armrest. The back should be erect and supported, the backrest should not be flat but should curve to match the spinal curvature. The back support should extend in a solid panel from the middle of the head to the sitting surface. It should be at an angle of, or more than, 90 degrees to the seat, but should not exceed 110 degrees. One should neither slouch nor sit forward bent over, nor recline backward too much.
• If the chair does not have a curvature at the lower back, add a small cushion at the level between the last ribs and the waistline.
• Feet should rest on a foot-rest, preferably inclined 30-45 degrees to the ground, heels on the floor.
• The height of the chair seat should be such that the knee bends at 70-90 degrees (where 0 degrees is a straightened leg).
• The monitor should be 1.5-2ft away from the eyes, with the middle of the monitor in a straight line with the eyes. As far as the keyboard is concerned, it should be at the level of the armrest, well above the lap.
• Take minute-long breaks after every 20 minutes of working on a computer, or even from sitting and reading or watching TV.
• Sleeping on a very hard bed, using too many or very thick pillows, watching TV or working on a laptop while lying down can all aggravate spondylitis.
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