By Dr Neil Gardner
The practice of carrying loads on our heads is something that we are guilty of culturally. This practice has been the cause of numerous unsuspected cases of degeneration and arthritis in the spine, in particular the cervical spine (neck). Spinal health is an often neglected dimension of health. It is no wonder that it is expected that most persons over 50 years of age will have some amount of spinal degeneration or arthritis.
There is hardly anyone bringing to attention this silent epidemic and stressing the importance of good spinal health. Many everyday practices can hurt or limit our chance of having a healthy spine and if we are not aware of them, we will suffer the same fate. One such practice is that of using your head to carry heavy loads.
How Neck Bones Respond to Loads
The bones of our neck are designed to support the weight of our heads, no more than about 10 to 15 pounds. When we carry a basket of produce on our heads the load is transferred to our neck bones. Bones have a very interesting property - they grow in response to stress. If this is done habitually, the bones will remodel by laying down more calcium to adjust to the load. Over time, the bones start to grow together, or fuse, leading to immobility and arthritis.
Symptoms of Dysfunctionin the Neck
The bones of the neck are the smallest of all the moveable bones in our spines, of which there are seven, with eight pairs of nerves that pass between them. These nerves carry important information from the brain to all the organs, blood vessels, glands, muscles and skin of the neck and upper extremities (shoulders to finger tips), and vice versa. Often when there is dysfunction in the spine, several years may pass before there are any symptoms. In addition to pain in the neck, the most common symptoms of cervical spine dysfunction are neck stiffness, headaches, dizziness, pain or numbness and tingling in the shoulders, arms or hands.
Informally, about seven per cent of persons who visit our office with pain and numbness in the hands and fingers, have a history of carrying basket loads of produce or other types of weights on their heads, as early as when they were children. Too many unsuspecting parents are loading up their children with these heavy weights without realising how damaging it is to their spines. Persons living in the rural areas, particularly if they do farming, are most vulnerable, especially at this time of year.
Anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, gels or rubs, might ease the pains initially, but do nothing to correct the alignment issues or ward off arthritis. Eventually, these agents will no longer work and if enough time passes, not even chiropractic will be able to help.
Prevention is the best option
There is no solution to arthritis of the spine; prevention is the best option for a healthy spine. Good preventative strategies include changing bad habits, early detection and correction of spinal misalignments, that chiropractors term vertebral subluxations. Adding a chiropractor to your team of health-care professionals is an important step to preventing or delaying the onset of arthritis of the spine.
Neil Gardner, DC, DACNB, Diplomate American Chiropractic Neurology Board, chiropractic neurologist, Gardner Chiropractic & Neurology Ltd. www.gcnjamaica.com; Phone: 876-978-1050-1/876-622-9241 or 214-432-5464 (From the USA).