The spine—or merudanda in Sanskrit—plays an important role in your ability to move around freely, protecting the central nervous system, and basically supporting the structure of your body. The healthier the spine, the more active you can be!
Do you enjoy your forward and backward bends? You may have your healthy spinal discs to thank for it. Spinal discs are like rubbery, gelatinous cushions throughout the spine that provide elasticity and permit a wider range of motion. But as we age, these discs tend to lose their lubrication which can lead to our spines getting stiffer and less flexible. It is much like moving from the flexibility of grass to the stiffness of a twig that may break easy on bending too much.
Spondylosis is the term that addresses the wear and tear of the spinal disc due to reasons of age, bad posture, or injuries. Unabated shrinkage and lack of lubrication in the spinal discs can further lead to signs of osteoarthritis. As much as possible, medical experts recommend non-surgical interventions for managing the pain in cervical spondylosis. Thankfully, with some lifestyle management, yoga, and Ayurveda therapies, this pain can be easily managed without popping analgesics. We are here to tell you how!
Functions of the Spinal Disc
Three important functions of the spinal disc enable it to play an important role in spine health:
- They are the shock absorbers for the spine.
- They are ligaments holding the vertebrae in place.
- They allow for mobility and flexibility in the spine.
Spondylosis does not have too many symptoms apart from neck pain and stiffness. Sometimes these can also be accompanied with a tingling sensation or numbness in the extremities, improper coordination while walking or loss of control on the bladder/bowel.
Spondylosis can be caused by a number of factors that affect your spinal health over time:
- Poor body movements
- Poor body posture
- Sedentary way of living
- Weak muscles and joints
- Wear and tear in the spinal disc due to aging
- Occupational hazard, that is, work that requires overexertion of the spine or poor mobility of the spinal muscles.
Spondylosis can manifest as
Dehydrated disc is where the spinal discs start drying and shrinking, usually once people reach the age of 40. This can lead to frictional damage between the bones in the vertebrae from the shrinking disc.
Herniated disc is when the exterior portion of the spinal disc bulges, pressing on the spinal cord and roots of linked nerves, which can be painful.
Bone spurs—extra growths on the vertebrae, a result of degeneration, jutting out that can pinch the spinal cord and roots of the nerves in the spine. Problems can also occur when spinal ligaments get stiff due to age related reasons.
An Ayurvedic Understanding of Spondylosis
As we age, vata dosha tends to dominate. Degenerative disorders are usually associated with aggravated vata dosha. In spondylosis, kapha dosha, the element which governs structures in the body, is also debilitated, leading to stiffness— both together lead to pain and limited range of motion. Aggravated vata is drying, and the quality extends to the spinal disc as well that leads to degeneration in the disc. Ayurveda can help in increasing bone strength and rehydration of the disc, to reduce the stiffness and discomfort.
Here are a few simple things you can do for dealing with spondylosis.
Herbs and Spices
Using anti-inflammatory herbs and spices in your food can go a long way in reducing inflammations that are at the root of multiple modern day lifestyle diseases including joint problems and spinal inflammations.
Castor oil. Since time immemorial, castor oil has been in use for treating joint pain and inflammation. Using about a tablespoon of castor oil a couple of times a week before bed can help bring vata in check and clear ama toxins. You can also massage the affected area with the oil every day followed by a hot pack, for pain relief.
Garlic. Garlic is another anti-inflammatory gift of nature that can be used for both oral consumption or as an ingredient in your warm oil massage oil. Having a couple of raw garlic buds every day first thing in the morning can keep your immunity up and lower inflammation too.
Turmeric. Golden latte or turmeric latte can be your go-to for dealing with inflammations and pains, given its reputation as a top anti-inflammatory and immunity boosting spice. Recent studies suggest turmeric has the potential to help reduce upper and lower back pain as the curcumin present in it can fight the inflammation and discomfort related to injuries in the spinal cord, pain due to herniated disc, or sciatic nerve pain.
Sesame oil. This warm, nourishing oil penetrates deeply into the tissues to lubricate and reduce inflammation. The presence of zinc, copper, vitamins, phosphorus, and calcium in sesame seeds help relieve arthritic pain, strengthen joints and improve bone mineral density.
Some of the other herbs and spices that you can include in your diet to deal with inflammatory pain caused by herniated disc or bone spurs are cayenne pepper, ginger, clarified butter, ashwagandha, bala, prishniparni, rasna, castor roots, guggulu, among others. Neem also has strong anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties that help reduce swelling in patients of cervical spondylosis.
Our bodies were not designed for the kind of sedentary life we lead, with spines hunched over desks or cellphones for hours. Lack of physical activity and muscle movement is an important cause behind why we find younger people going to the clinics with spondylosis complaints, which is essentially an age-related disorder.
Yogasanas—when done with all the awareness—can also help alleviate stress which is another major contributor to spondylosis.
An essential component of Ayurveda involves lubrication, nourishment of the body and mind and removal of excesses—excess doshas and toxins that get stored in the body over time, owing to living a life that does not favor our dosha constitution. This component is called Panchakarma. Panchakarma therapies that can effectively help deal with spondylosis symptoms are
- Nasya. This helps in balancing vitiated vata and kapha in the upper respiratory tracts. It also eliminates the toxins from the respiratory tracts. It also eases the pain and stiffness in the upper body. It stimulates the brain and repairs the limbic system. By balancing Kapha, it helps lower the stiffness in the spine.
- Snehana means oleation. Abhyanga, or warm oil body massages, help in taming excess vata and provide pain relief. The medicated oils like ksheerabala taila, dhanvantaram tailam and pind taila are chosen based on season, vikriti or imbalances, and the prakriti of the individual. Pichu is another massage therapy where a thick cotton layer completely soaked in warm medicated oil is placed over the affected parts. Then there is Kati Vasti where warm oil is poured into a mould made using a fine paste of black lentils, used for sealing the affected area. This helps loosen stiff joints, reduces pain and swelling. Greeva vasti is performed on the neck area for treatment of cervical spondylosis, and Janu Vasti is performed on the knee joint. All these snehana procedures are effective in relieving signs of osteoarthritis and spondylosis.
- Snehapan is the procedure that involves internal oleation. Here the patient consumes medicated clarified butter orally, to channel the ama or the loosened toxins into the digestive tract, for elimination through the anus. This is used for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and gout.
- Swedana translates to sweating. Medicated steam bath is a common form of swedana treatment used for loosening stiffness in the spine, joints and muscles, and is done after application of medicated oil externally. Patra Pind sweda is where a potli or bolus stuffed with leaves of specific herbs like thorn apple, castor beans, tamarind etc, along with medicated powders and oils, is applied to the patient. The content will differ based on an individual’s prakruti. Shashtika shali pind sweda is yet another popular swedana technique using bolus made of nutritious shashtika rice which is cooked and soaked in medicated liquid. This process is deeply invigorating and nourishing for stiff joints, muscles, spine and bones. In Manal Kizhi technique warm sand is put in a bolus to provide heat to affected joints. This technique is helpful especially in treating rheumatoid arthritis. In Pizhichil, warm medicated oil is poured on the body to induce perspiration. The swedana techniques are helpful in treatment of osteoarthritis, spondylosis, rheumatoid arthritis, spondylitis and gout.
Get Your Posture Right
To fend off spondylosis, it is important to maintain good posture on a daily basis. Bad body posture may put unnecessary strain on the spine, and over time can turn into a painful experience.
- The neck should be in the neutral position that is aligned with the spine and not leaning forward or on the sides.
- Shoulders should be down and loose, and back relaxed. Keep checking your posture every 45 minutes until proper posture becomes a habit.
- Your workstation should be set up such that the computer screen is at eye level, and feet are firmly on the ground.
- Find ways to keep stress levels low. Stress is linked to poor posture, muscle stiffness and tension.
- Instead of rolling your neck, stretch it by looking to each side for 10 seconds. Then, look up and down for 10 seconds each.
- Avoid bending your head down for more than 10 minutes.
- Maintain an active lifestyle. Ask your doctor or fitness coach if you can add resistance training, aerobics and flexibility asanas on your routine.
- Lose weight. Being overweight could also strain your facet joints, speeding up the wear and tear.
- Stick to a healthy diet. Eat nutritious foods rich in minerals and vitamins to avoid rapid degeneration of bones.
- Stretch from time to time. Make sure you do not sit on your desk for too long without a break. Stretch your body once every thirty minutes if you can, to avoid the strain on your spine.
- Quit smoking. Research shows smoking is associated with accelerated aging, which can mean a premature onset of diseases such as arthritis and osteoporosis.
- Avoid alcohol. Binge drinking can lead to excessive dehydration. Over time, increased dehydration of the spinal discs can lead to rapid corrosion of the bones in the vertebrae.