Dr G. Shashi Kanth, an orthopaedic surgeon working as a senior consultant at Yashoda Hospitals in Hyderabad, has attended numerous patients over the past two decades. But a recent case involving a 24-year-old worried him most. The young man had chronic back pain for about three months and used to take over-the-counter pain medicines. But the pain persisted, and finally, he visited the doctor. "I found that he had spinal tuberculosis. Early diagnosis and right medicines can cure it completely, but he had lost three valuable months and had to undergo surgery. The treatment and the recovery took a long time," he says.
Back or neck pain should not be neglected, given our long office hours, desk-bound lifestyle and love of screens (we are either slouching in not-so-ergonomic office chairs for hours or craning our neck to stare at computers, mobile phones or television sets). "Nowadays, 35-40 per cent of all orthopaedic patients suffer from backaches and neck pain, up from 20-25 per cent five years ago," says Dr Shashi Kanth.
What causes them, though? Reasons can vary from poor posture, lack of exercise and lack of proper diet, especially Vitamin D deficiency, to degenerating muscles/bones, damaged nerves, infection, injury and abnormal growth. People put on steroids may also suffer as it leads to osteoporosis or bone loss. Those suffering from spine-related issues are prone to these conditions as well as the vertebrae may not support their body weight and movement.
Stress can also aggravate the condition as the perception of pain increases due to biochemical and hormonal changes in the body. By the time you are in your 30s, there could be early symptoms of chronic muscle strain or bone/muscle degeneration, including acute or lingering neck and back pain, an occasional feeling of numbness or stiffness in movement. Left unattended, this could lead to a chronic health issue and even cervical spondylosis.
So, what should you do? A vitamin-and-mineral-rich diet, adequate exercise and proper postures often help. Ideally, the upper border of the laptop/desktop monitor should be in line with your eyes and the seat should keep your spine aligned at a 90 degree angle instead of curving it. Your thighs should rest parallel to the ground and knees should be square to your hips. In case the pain continues, go and see your doctor at the earliest so that X-rays, MRIs and other tests can be done to diagnose and fix the issue.
There are surgical procedures to fix back pain, but doctors often refer to failed back surgery syndrome, a medical condition when people suffer from chronic back pain following back surgeries. On the other hand, Dr Shashi Kanth has seen a growing trend towards minimally invasive surgeries over the past five years.
These include endoscopic spine surgery, vertebroplasty (bone cement filling is injected to stabilise cracked, broken or weakened spinal cord) and radiofrequency ablation, a procedure where electrical current produced by a radio wave heats a small area to reduce pain signals transmitted by nerves. According to the doctor, soon, there will be a more targeted approach for spine surgery with the use of robotics and computer navigation.