A real pain in the neck!

Cold weather aggravates all kinds of ailments, including degenerative bone diseases.

The winter season often worsens complaints of pain in the joints, neck and shoulder region for those who suffer from degenerative bone diseases. Those who have been diagnosed with cervical spondylitis often complain of greater pain during the winter months. With reduced physical exercise due to the cold season, it is very important to pay attention to small details to reduce the pain. Prevention is the key not only for elderly citizens but also for younger individuals who suffer from degenerative bone diseases, according to Dr Praveen Rao, senior orthopaedic and joint replacement surgeon at Yashoda Hospitals.

Q Why do people suffering from cervical spondylitis complain of a crippling effect in and around the neck and spine region during winters?
Cold weather can actually shrink the tissues, causing them to pull on the nerve endings, thus causing joint pain. When it is cold, the nerve endings are extremely sensitive and the muscles surrounding the nerves tense up. When the barometric pressure drops, there is less atmospheric pressure to hold the tissues back and it causes the inflamed tissue to swell and thus, cold weather causes pain. However, there is no conclusive evidence to prove this theory.

Q It is said that winters lead to decreased physical activity and due to this, people suffering from this disease complain of aggravation in the pain. If that is so, what kind of exercises are suggested for those above 50 or 60 years of age?
Cold weather can change our postures. When it’s cold outside, we automatically curl up, slouch, and occasionally shiver, all of which cause changes in our upper body. We tend to round our backs, slouch and elevate our shoulders to our ears, causing our necks and heads to be forced forwards. This is bad and can cause a whole host of problems like pain, back stiffness and muscle tightness.

Two types of exercises can be done:
Flexibility and stretching exercises can expand or preserve the range of motion and elasticity in affected cervical (neck) joints, and thus relieve the stiffness that leads to pain.

Neck stretching is best done every day, and some stretches should be done several times a day. Strengthening exercises help maintain improved posture, which in turn will lessen or eliminate recurrent flare-ups of pain. As a general rule, these exercises should be done every other day to allow muscles time to repair themselves.

Q It is stated that those above 60 years of age suffer due to bone degeneration and hence their pain is acute. But does it also mean that they are not taking the right medicines, undergoing physiotherapy or doing the neck exercises?
Yes, older people with degenerative joint disease will experience worsening of the pain during the cold season. But it is not always true. Medication and physiotherapy are important factors which can give a lot of relief to these patients. It is important to restrict activities that aggravate pain. Physiotherapy, including stretching and strengthening exercises and passive therapy including heat, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation will go a long way in reducing pain and stiffness. Yoga can help in stretching and strengthening muscles and improve posture. Medications for back pain relief include paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and muscle relaxants.

Q Why do those below 50 years of age suffer from this disease? What are the preventive steps that they must take during this season?
Any person who has degenerative joint disease can have aggravation of pain during the cold season. The preventive measures that can be taken are — to wear warmer clothes, including scarves, caps and gloves; keeping your body warm and decreasing the need to hunch away from the cold. Check your posture and correct it. Relax your shoulders and rotate them to release tension. Use a hot pack around your neck, back, on top of your shoulders and relax.


  • Maintain correct posture while sitting at your work station.
  • If you sit for long periods of time, sit only for 40 minutes at a time. Stand up for 5 to 10
  • minutes or move around in the office or home.
  • Physical exercise helps to prevent sprain and strain and can be carried out indoors too.
  • Sleep on a bed with a soft to moderately soft mattress. Ensure that it is not too soft.
  • Keep your body warm in winter and ensure that the neck region is also protected with a proper scarf.
( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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