By Dr PN Renjen
Several people suffer from spondylitis and cervical issues but are not aware of it. How to differentiate between regular muscle stiffness and these issues?
Muscle stiffness is tightness in muscles caused due to sudden activity of a muscle which has been inactive for a long time, or else hard physical exercise such as lifting weights. Muscle stiffness often causes a restriction in moving with muscle pains. On the other hand, spondylitis occurs due to the wear and tear of the intervertebral disc as a result of overusing certain muscles for activities like heavy weightlifting as part of daily lifestyle without supervision. Cervical spondylosis is also a very common age-related condition that causes stiffness to the joints, but most commonly to the neck. The largest known cause for this is age but there are other contributing factors as well. People often get confused with these three, so it is always best to have a consultation with a doctor for a precise answer.
What are the typical symptoms to look out for?
Early symptoms for spondylitis are more common, which include pain and tenderness of the joints and neck, radiating pain to fingers, chest, and occasionally to the back and bowel inflammation. Experiencing frequent yet short waves of muscle stiffness and tiredness is also a very common symptom.
Difficulty in breathing and unusual bowel movements due to internal inflammation are also some of the more severe symptoms. Some symptoms may be common with cervical spondylosis such as pain in the back of the head, stiffness in the shoulder blade and numbness in the joints. Spondylitis can be of various types and depending on that symptoms can change.
Who is at risk for these issues?
Spondylitis is a very common issue that is faced by many in today’s world. Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic started, working from home has caused young adults to go through extensive hours of work. Naturally, this leads to sitting in one position for a long period leading to change of posture in the body.
Ankylosing spondylitis is a specific type of spondylitis in which carrying the gene HLA-B27 can increase your chances of developing the same. This makes some vulnerable to other environmental factors as well.
Individuals with a naturally bad posture are also easily affected by the same such as someone with an immensely long or short neck will have a higher risk.
What lifestyle/posture habits give rise to or accelerate these issues?
Actions that we do in the daily lives that may seem usual to us could be one of the reasons that can trigger spondylitis. Some of these may include:
Extensive long working hours with bad posture is one of the most common causes that trigger spondylitis in young men and women. This can also lead to bad posture while doing other activities.
Lifting heavy weights without supervision as a part of daily household or work activities can also be a contributing factor because while lifting heavy weights posture is of absolute necessity.
Irregular exercise regimen can also cause fluctuation in body weight which leads to sudden changes in the body.
Incorrect sleeping positions and height of the pillow are also major factors that can cause spondylitis because when the body is resting it tends to be in one position for a long period of time.
When should one seek medical help?
Routine medical checkups should be common for someone that is diagnosed with spondylitis as regular treatments will help the doctor track the progress of the patient. One should seek medical help when the pain is excruciating and does not deteriorate with time. When slight movements or exercises cause unbearable pain, the pain lasts for more than a certain span of time. When one begins to experience shortness of breath or pain in their chests. This is because of long-term inflammation between the joints leading to scarring of the tissue. Patients are advised to visit the doctor immediately, in case of any other unusual symptoms, such as a red eye or unusual bowel movements that occur due to inflammation in the tissues.
What are the steps to be taken to avoid these issues?
The quick-paced life that we currently serve can also be a major cause of spondylitis that tends to cause severe soreness and aches which can be reduced with the help of certain changes to one’s lifestyle:
A healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and regular exercise that suits your body will make a big difference in overall health. Exercising every day helps with proper muscle movement and will relax the body after a long day.
When working long hours making sure that your posture is correct this can be done by making adjustments to your seating arrangement and taking short breaks or stretches during long hours of sitting in one position can help in avoiding muscle soreness
Avoid smoking regularly as it leads to several health issues including weakening of bones which is a direct cause of spondylitis. Switching to healthier options like nicotine patches can make a big difference.
In case of sudden aches or soreness, a hot compression can be done with a hot water bag to loosen stiff muscles or cold compression with an ice pack can be done to reduce inflammation.
A soft collar or back brace can help with temporary relief of the pain.
Dr PN Renjen is senior consultant, neurosciences, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi