A Consultant neurosurgeon at the Federal Medical Center Abuja, Dr. Douglas Okor has warned Nigerians experiencing back pains against ignoring it, noting that it could be a sign of tuberculosis.
The neurosurgeon said it is not all the time tuberculosis presents with cough, adding that it may present with back pains.
He stressed that if spinal tuberculosis is undiagnosed and left untreated, it can cause irreversible damage to the spine which could eventually require surgery for treatment.
Dr. Okor spoke in an interview on a TV programme on African Independent Television.
According to the National Library of Medicine, back pain is the most frequent symptom of spinal tuberculosis. The intensity of pain varies from constant mild, dull aching, to severely disabling, adding that it is typically localised to the site of involvement, most commonly in the thoracic region.
“Spinal tuberculosis is a destructive form of tuberculosis and is more common in children and young adults, ”NLM said.
Speaking further on the TV programme, Dr. Okor stated that tuberculosis and bacterial infections are the two common infections that can affect the spine.
The expert said spinal tuberculosis is common in this part of the world, adding that certain factors like HIV, reduced immunity, etc., could predispose an individual to TB.
Dr. Okor said, “When we are talking about two common infections that will affect the spine, we are talking about tuberculosis and bacterial infections.
“Sometimes tuberculosis may not just presume with cough, it may presume with back pain and it is TB. Spine tuberculosis is generally prevalent in our part of the world compared to the developed economies and usually, in terms of the presentation of the symptoms, it is the pain.
In addition, he said, “There are things that can actually predispose one to TB like reduced immunity, things like HIV, and people who have not controlled diabetes. The TB infection affects the disc in the spine and spreads to involve the bone and also spreads to involve the soft tissue in it as well.
“You can have infections affecting the blocks that make up the spine itself or the soft tissue in between the blocks called the disc and it can spread to the bone.
“The major problem is that when it is affecting all those things, remember the spinal cord is just in there and it will start putting pressure on the spine.”
“If the TB has affected all these areas and is now putting pressure on the spinal cord, there is a good chance you might need to do surgery and the TB treatment is also extremely important,” the neurologist said.
Dr. Okor further stressed that anytime a patient is seen with back pain with a high index of suspicion of some sort of infection, there is a need to check it out for TB.
He urged Nigerians to ensure they quickly visit the hospital when they are experiencing back pains, noting that once there is damage to the spine, it would be difficult to reverse.
Speaking also on the need for healthy lifestyles with regards to the spine and to prevent spinal issues, especially the wear and tear in the spine, the neurosurgeon urged Nigerians to pay better attention to their spine.
“So there are a couple of things like posture, the way you walk, and the way you sit.
“Sitting for long periods can kill you, even if you are in a big conference where you need to sit for three to four hours straight, you can get up after like 45 minutes to one hour, stroll around and come back again to sit.
“When you are slouching forward or backward you are putting too much pressure on your spine so it is better to sit erect.”
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Dr. Okor further noted that while everyone will eventually experience wear and tear in the bones from the age of 25, he stressed that participating in exercises to strengthen muscles is important as it reduces wear and tears in the bones.
“Exercises that strengthen your back muscle like swimming are very good and really important.
“Strengthening your back muscles keeps your spine in check and helps to reduce the progression of wear and tear. A good physiotherapist will be able to give you an idea of the kinds of exercises to do to strengthen your back muscles.”
“All of us will have wear and tear; from age 25 everyone starts to get old so we pray we age with Grace and we do some of all these things that can prevent significant wear and tear or reduce the speed of the wear and tear in bones,” he said.
“One of the key things is that the brain, the spinal cord, and the nerves are permanent tissues. Once they are damaged it is difficult to reverse them, that is why we have this adage that time is crucial. Brain, time is the spinal cord, time is nerve.”
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