Osteoarthritis and DJD of the Cervical Spine
The facet joints of the spine are what enable it to be flexible. Two of these facets, which are made of hard but smooth cartilage surrounded by a capsule and lubricated by synovial fluids, are located behind each vertebra and allow the forward, backward, and twisting motion of the spine. Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and it often affects the joints of the spine. As your spine endures the wear and tear of life’s activities, the cartilage begins to wear away, allowing the bony surfaces of the spine to rub against each other. This in turn can cause spurs to form and inflammation to occur, which ultimately results in pain. The key to preventing DJD of the cervical spine is to avoid activities that will create injury, so try to reduce the stress on your neck, and perform stretching maneuvers and exercise that will strengthen your neck and support your spine.
Your Diet Matters
Eating a balanced and nutritious diet is the foundation of good health. Your spine is no exception to this rule. Daily intake of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains will insure that you are getting adequate amounts of the nutrients that you need for strong and healthy bones and joints. This should include good sources of calcium such as low fat dairy products, as well as green leafy vegetables and nuts. It is also recommended that you avoid beverages high in sugar, and make an effort to limit caffeine and alcohol. Following a healthy diet will also be a good way for you to achieve a healthy weight. In fact, being overweight places additional stress on all of your joints, including the joints of your spine. This in turn not only increases the wear and tear on your joints, but also places you at increased risk of injury. You should aim for a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5-24.9, which is optimal for adults, to protect all the joints of your body, including your spine.
Any time you injure a joint, you increase the risk of future arthritis. This includes the joints of the spine. Taking proper precautions to prevent injury is then key to avoiding DJD of the spine. Wear your seatbelt when you drive, and drive carefully to avoid accidents. You should also wear protective gear for any sports or activities that place you at risk. Avoiding excessive use of alcohol or the use of illicit drugs will prevent trips and falls, as will proper lighting and the use of well-fitting footwear.
Posture and Protecting Your Spine
The way that you stand or sit affects the health of your spine. Standing up straight, without hunched or slouched shoulders maintains your neck in proper alignment. Sitting for long periods of time, especially over a desk or a computer can also place undo stress on your cervical spine. If you work at a desk, it is important to stand periodically, to lift your head upward, and to rotate your head and neck throughout the day. This will give your cervical spine some relief from the constant flexion that will produce neck strain.
You should also be very aware of your body position when you are lifting anything. Always try to square your shoulders and spread your legs for stability when lifting something heavy. Bend your knees, and not your back, while lifting. Also, you should never lift and twist. Reaching up can also place strain on your neck, especially if you are trying to lift or reach for anything heavy. It may be best to use a step stool, or get some help to prevent injury.
Exercise and Stretch
All the joints of your body are better protected if the muscles surrounding them are strong and flexible. Daily exercise is recommended for everyone. This will first help you maintain a healthy weight. However, exercises that strengthen the shoulders, upper back and neck will protect your cervical spine because stronger muscles will help support your neck. Stretching exercises, including those of yoga or Pilates will also help to maintain neck flexibility.
In addition to the numerous harms smoking causes the body, it also increases degeneration of the joints of the spine. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to help you quit. Nicotine patches or gum, relaxation techniques, and prescription medications are some of the options available.
As we age, we are all at greater risk of DJD and neck pain, however, a healthy lifestyle that includes a well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and a focus on prevention will help you maintain a healthy spine. If you have any questions about DJD, how to keep your spine healthy and strong, or the orthopedic services we offer at Advanced Bone & Joint, please call us at (636) 229-4222 or use our secure online appointment request form. Our friendly staff looks forward to meeting all of your orthopedic needs.