Cervical Spondylosis and Office Workers

It is estimated that 9 out of 10 adults will have some degree of cervical spondylosis by the time they are 60, but the disease also affects younger people.

Illustration by Sergio Membrillas, Valencia, Spain

Pain and stiffness affecting the neck are the typical symptoms of cervical spondylosis, a disease that is a normal part of aging. With the passing years spinal disks tend to dehydrate and shrink, but other factors – such as genetic causes, neck injuries and occupation, for example – may contribute to its development. Cervical spondylosis, in fact, is regarded as one of the most common occupational disorders: the high possibility of morbidity and continuous stabbing pain are becoming a significant risk for office workers such as IT programmers and computer operators.

With the prevalence of computer use, many modern office workers spend more and more time sitting and working at a computer to complete their daily tasks. Apart from driving, taking the elevator to the office and at lunchtime, office workers almost always sit in front of a computer and may spend seven or eight hours each day virtually motionless. It is not hard to see why office workers often feel pain in the back or neck. “The stabbing pain,” says Dr. E.C. Benzel of the Department of Neurosurgery at the Cleveland Clinic Spine Institute, “is mostly caused by lack of mobility and physical activity. In order to prevent cervical spondylosis, all one needs to do is take more exercise or move more, and not have a static posture during working hours. The best choice is to relax oneself through walking, making a cup of coffee or even gazing into the distance every one or two hours.” But incorrect posture during daily working hours may also have a negative effect on cervical health, leading to more and more younger people developing cervical spondylosis. “It is necessary to pay more attention to having the correct posture when sitting and operating a keyboard,” continues Dr. Benzel. “Most office workers ignore this when at work, but if you pay attention to it, it can improve your wellbeing when using a computer and help to maintain your physical condition.

After finishing work, it is useful to take some exercise to keep oneself in good health. “Physical therapy may be effective for restoring the range of motion, flexibility, and core strength. Moderate sports exercise is the most effective and direct way to help build good physical attributes,” states the specialist, “especially for those modern office workers who seldom play sports. Yoga, basketball, swimming, jogging and walking can be convenient choices to enjoy the best effects of sport. As well as helping to relax oneself away from the stress of work, it is also a way to strengthen the muscles of the whole body and neck.

Rest and exercise to strengthen the muscles of the neck constitute the first line of treatment for cervical spondylosis. “If they are not enough, therapeutic interventions,” declares Dr. Benzel, “may be necessary – applying heat or ice to the neck, especially if the neck muscles are sore, or having patients wear a neck brace or lay in traction for a time to realign the vertebrae of the neck. As for treatment, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs also play a role in treating cases of cervical spondylosis that do not require surgery, while severe pain may prompt prescriptions for cortisone injections, opioids and muscle relaxants.

[W  my.clevelandclinic.org]

Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Fall 2014