Raksha a 26 year old computer engineer working in a reputed MNC, left her job 3 years ago due to persistent neck pain. She shares her experience as “I tried almost everything from rest to medicines to physiotherapy. When nothing helped me permanently, I decided to quit my job as a ‘coder’ and have rest”. This isn’t just the story of Raksha, but many more are like this.
Neck pain is a very common problem in young professionals having a computer job. They sit for almost 7-9 hours every day in front of a computer screen in bad posture, straining the neck.
“The number one reason for neck pain in this age is sitting in front of a computer or laptop in awkward positions. This is further aggravated by long sitting hours and lack of exercise. Fortunately, most of these pains can be managed by conservative treatment but sometimes only a surgery can help. Personally speaking, I don’t like operating on young patients until or unless the slip disc is really disabling” explains Dr. Hitesh Garg, head Spine surgery at Artemis hospital.
Use of a mobile phone is another contributing factor. Bending the neck forward to type a message puts a lot of load on the neck. This prolonged neck bending causes the lower cervical spine disc to degenerate faster. Another neck damaging use of a phone is when someone holds the phone between neck and shoulder to keep the hands free. This posture is particularly damaging to the neck and can even lead to slip disc in the neck.
“The unfortunate part these days is that we see a lot of young people with neck pain these days. Mostly they are from an IT background. Typically they are overworked, obese, don’t exercises and above all work on their laptops for almost 8 hours every day. Exercise would cure the majority of them, but unfortunately, due to their hard-pressed schedule they end up being a patient” tells Dr. Himanshu Tyagi, senior consultant Orthopaedic & Spine Surgery, Artemis hospital.
10-15 minutes of daily neck exercises, regular neck stretches while working on the computer and proper sitting posture while working, these 3 simple things can take care of almost 95 percent of all neck pains in these busy young executives.
These days videos explaining neck exercises and working posture for computer users are readily available on YouTube. Most of them guide correctly but in the case of unrelenting pain, one should always visit a doctor or physiotherapist.
Another common reason for neck pain in young age is poor sleeping posture. Sleeping in a car without a proper ‘c- pillow’ or ‘traveller’s pillow’ strains the neck a lot especially in individuals who travel a lot.
If not treated on time these vague neck and upper back pain in young professionals can progress to frank slip disc causing radicular pain in arm or numbness or early frank paralysis. Such a condition would only improve with surgery.
Another such example is Mr. Jain. “I was operated almost 3 years ago for cervical slip disc at a young age at 24 years. It was a terrible pain not going away with medicines. Eventually, I had to undergo surgery. I am much better now, but the doctors have already explained to me that I might need one more surgery in the future as my first surgery was done at a very young age”
Surgery at a young age has its own problems. The cervical disc next to the operated level starts degenerating at a faster rate (due to overwork) and may require another surgery in the future. This process is called ASD (Adjacent segment degeneration).
If this neck pain goes on increasing in-spite of medicines or there is a developing paralysis then surgery either in the form of ACDF (Anterior cervical Disectomy and fusion) or Artificial cervical disc replacement (ADR) is normally done. Chances of second surgery in the future due to ASD (adjacent segment degeneration) becomes much less if ADR ( artificial disc replacement) is done, thus making it a preferable option in young age.
“I prefer doing ADR (disc replacement) in a young patient if the need for surgery arises. This surgery gives better results in terms of neck movement and relief of symptoms in the long run as compared to ACDF” talks Dr. Hitesh Garg.
Our young IT professional is at a greater risk for neck pain as compared to other professionals of similar age group. Poor workplace ergonomics, improper sleeping posture, lack of exercise, overweight and excessive typing/talking on the phone, all contribute to this. A step forward in this direction would be to educate our young IT professionals about workplace ergonomic and motivate them regarding regular exercise.