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World Disability Day: How timely spine check can prevent a lifelong disability


Mumbai: Spine disorders, fueled by sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercises, unhealthy postures and recently popularized Work From Home (WFH) culture are certain to plague the world as the society learns to live with the pandemic. However, despite high prevalence, spine disorders are identified and ignored as back pain, irrespective of the actual diagnosis or cause of the condition.

If ignored, spine disorders may eventually lead to permanent disability. The Lancet’s 2010 Global Burden of Diseases Study contributed over 166million years lived with disability (YLDs) to musculoskeletal disorders with neck and low back pain accounting for 69.9% of the total. Moreover, the physical disabilities caused by spine disorders is also followed by social and economic paralysis in our Indian households.

The spinal column portrays amazing mobility while protecting the spinal cord and nerves encased within its structure. However, akin to any hard working machine, spine is subjected to wear and tear forces. Commonly pain in the back due to work over load and can be effectively controlled with weight reduction, strengthening exercises, medications and physiotherapy.

However, entrapment of nerves can be due to a slipped disc or age related narrowing. This greatly affects one’s ability to walk as perform routine activities. This is termed as functional paralysis. True paralysis occurs due to injury to the spinal cord during trauma, infections, tumours etc. The injuring force or compression if controlled effectively can save irreversible loss of power, sensations and bladder control. A break in the neck can result in ‘tetraplegia’, also known as ‘quadriplegia’ – a disability characterized by complete lower limb paralysis that might sometimes even cause loss of breathing functions. Another disorder called ‘paraplegia’ (leg paralysis) deals a blow to the neural elements of the spinal canal.

The disability is therefore proportional to delay in treatment. Complete paralysis requires a prolonged neuro-rehabilitation where advanced physiotherapy and orthosis are used to help a patient to be a useful member of the society. The aim should therefore be disability prevention by counselling people about care of the spine, recognition of early problems and timely surgicalIntervention. What might seem like an ache and not visible to the naked eye might actually require diagnostic tests such as an X-ray, MRI, CT scan or bone scan, especially for an injury caused due to intense physical activity. A thorough clinical examination might be required to check for the intensity of the issue.

The time between the injury and its treatment is also critical in determining the extent of damage to the spine. Timely treatment can ensure that the damage is either entirely avoided or at least mitigated. The seriousness of an injury might also not be recognized immediately. A timely check can ensure that the injury does not aggravate and can immediately be catered to. The economic, social burden on the care givers and family members cannot be ignored and their contributions deserve highest accolades on this day.

How we view a spinal disorder essentially determines what is characterized as a disability. As a term, disability goesbeyond physical incapability to include the society’s attitudes and perceptions about it. Spinal disorders are traditionally associated with old age and have been seen as a part of the process of growing old. However, people of any age can meet with them. Even though having a sedentary lifestyle might be accompanied by neck and spine issues, it doesn’t necessarily entail developing them. Thus it becomes imperative to go for a timely check to prevent disabilities that might actually be life bound.