A specific form of arthritis, which attacks vertebrae, and connecting bony and ligament structures, is known as spondylosis. Often, it occurs in the cervical vertebrae. The spines of the majority of people above the age of 50 have a certain degree of osteoarthritic changes. But this seldom causes acute symptoms. Certain precipitating factors like trauma, incorrect posture of the body, pressure while sleeping and excessive intake of sour food usually precipitate these attacks.
Pain in the back of neck, shoulder and arms, stiffness of the neck and even paraplegia occur due to this condition. The movement of the spine generally aggravates the pain of the neck. It is often associated with loss of memory and sleeplessness.
Causes of Cervical Spondylosis
Age – Cervical spondylosis is often related to the tissue degeneration that occurs with age. Less than 25% of those under 40 years suffer from CS, while for the age group above 40 the numbers go up by 60% or more.
Neck injury – A neck injury even if has been a while can predispose one to spondylosis. Other affecting factors that could trigger spondylosis attacks could be poor posture, trauma and excessive intake of sour foods (as per Ayurvedic wisdom).
Genetics – While the hereditary tendency is yet to be confirmed, those who have CS and are above 50 years of age have a higher likelihood to have a sibling with the same condition.
Work activity – Those who carry heavy loads on their head or shoulders are more likely to have cervical spondylosis than those who don’t.
Herniated disks – The inter-vertebral disks have two concentric layers. With advancing age, the nucleus loses fluid, size and flexibility and the complete structure gets dehydrated. This makes the disks more susceptible to damage and compression. If trauma occurs, the inner layer protrudes through the outer fibrous layer, causing a bulge. This is a herniated disk that can slowly develop into associated problems such as CS.
Symptoms of Cervical Spondylosis
The most common manifestation of the problem is a lingering pain in the neck which radiates to the arms or shoulders.
- Weakness in the legs and arms
- Stiffness in the neck, legs or shoulders
- Loss of balance
- Headaches (at the back of the head)
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of control over bladder or bowel movements
- General fatigue
While usually the cervical spondylosis symptoms develop gradually over time, they may occur or get worse all of a sudden.
The pain could be mild, or it could be so severe that it incapacitates you. The pain may be felt over the shoulder blade or could make its way to the upper arm, forearm, or the fingers in rare cases.
There may be a greater incidence of pain felt:
- After standing or sitting
- During the night
- On sneezing, coughing or laughing
- On bending the neck backwards
- Walking more than a few yards
- Weakness in certain muscles
- Numbness or tingling in the shoulders, arms or legs (rarely)
- Inability to squeeze the hands
Ayurveda and Cervical Spondylosis
In Ayurveda, this condition is known as Griva Sandhigata Vata. As the name suggests, the problem is caused by the vitiation of Vata dosha (biohumor associated with Air and Ether). When Vata gets aggravated it causes the depletion of the body’s tissues. The cold and drying qualities of Vata dosha lead to the decrease of the cushioning fluid and connective tissue between the joints that are ruled by Kapha dosha (biohumor associated with Earth and Water). In time, it leads to disc degeneration and eventually brings about spondylosis.
Ayurvedic Treatment of Cervical Spondylosis
Prescribed Ayurvedic treatments are done with specific oils as per the patient’s dosha . Violent massage with deep pressure is very harmful for the patient. Only gentle massage over the muscles of the neck and shoulder joints should be applied and for this purpose Mahanarayana taila is best suited. A gentle massage can be given 2-3 times a day. In winter season; this medicated oil should be gently warmed before application.
Guggulu, gum resin extracted from the mukul myrrh tree, is the best medicine for the treatment of this condition. Ayurvedic physicians use compound preparation for the treatment of this condition. It is given in a prescribed doses. Usually warm water or warm milk is given to the patient after the administration of this medicine. It has a slight laxative effect. For the patient to recover from this ailment, it is necessary that the bowels should move clearly and regularly. This medicine is very much helpful for this purpose.
At night, medicines which act as purgatives should be given. Triphala powder is the best medicine for this purpose. One teaspoonful of triphala should be given to the patient, mixed with a cup of warm milk and one spoon of sugar. If the motions become regular with the other prescribed medicines, then triphala powder should be given only twice a week otherwise it can be given every day.
Hot fomentation on the vertebrae of the neck is very useful for this condition. In a large handkerchief, tie about 500 gms of salt and heat it on a frying pan till it becomes tolerably hot. Then this should be applied over the neck. Care should be taken to see that it not too hot. In that case, it may cause burns. This is because sometimes patients suffering from cervical spondylosis develop some anesthetic patches in the back, neck, shoulders and arms because of the pressure from the nervous system. Therefore, the patient is not able to feel the quantum of heat applied during fomentation. This fomentation should be continued for about ½ an hour every day. After fomentation the affected part should not be exposed to cold wind. In winter, the affected part should be covered with some woolen garment immediately following the fomentation. In other seasons, the affected part should be kept covered with some cotton garments after fomentation. It is very convenient to take the fomentation before bedtime. After the fomentation the patient should go to sleep so that he does not run the risk of exposure.
Panchakarma therapies like Abhyangam Swedam, Elakizhi, Nasyam, Shirovasti or Shirodhara, Greeva Vasti, Navara Kizhi and Vasti are usually done based on the person’s condition and severity of the disease. The average duration of therapy may range between 4 – 6 weeks and most of the cases experience a high range of recovery.
Diet, Lifestyle & Yoga
Sour things, particularly curd, are strictly prohibited.Fried things, pulses and various preparations of pulses are also contra-indicated in this condition.Bitter vegetables like the bitter variety of drumstick, neem flowers and bitter gourd are very useful.Wheat is better than rice in a cervical spondylosis diet. One should however, avoid taking refined wheat or maida (flour) and suji (semolina).Vitamins A and C help reduce inflammation so one must consume lots of fresh fruits and veggies.Other nutrients important for reducing inflammation are omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E such as oil seeds, nuts and fish.One must avoid highly acidic foods like red meat, citrus fruits and even white potatoes. The buildup of acid in the body can lead to puffiness of the joints and aggravate cervical spondylosis.Eat four to six smaller meals, instead of three large meals.A diet that’s very high in protein can interfere with the absorption of calcium. Also, avoid salt, phosphorus (from fizzy drinks), caffeine and alcohol can affect calcium obtained.
Exposure to cold, cold baths and any violent exercise of the neck muscles are very bad for the patients.While reading and writing one should maintain a comfortable posture.Morning walk can provide some relief, but if it is cold outside the patient should always use a woolen scarf around the neck.Wearing a neck brace or a soft cervical collar can be used for a short period of time to provide support to the neck muscles.Sleep on a firm mattress that keeps your head level. The pillows should not bend the back more than 15 degrees. Avoid sleeping on your stomach as it extends the neck. It is ideal to sleep on your back or your side.Constipation must be avoided at all costs and can increase pain in those suffering from CS. If suffering from constipation, take one tablespoon of castor oil before going to bed every alternate day. This will cleanse the system and balance Vata. Triphala is mentioned above as another natural remedy for constipation.
Wind Relieving Pose (Pavana Muktasana) , Half Plough Pose (Ardha Halasana)Bridge Pose (Setubandhasana), Boat Pose (Naukasana), Infant Pose (Bal-Shayanasana)
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