Saturday, December 2, 2023

Disastrous road conditions taking a toll on our spine health


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By Dr. Th Cynthia M Fancon

The decaying roads in Meghalaya have been an endless issue which seems to have no solution up till the present time. Roads which essentially provide connectivity to different parts of the state to increase trade, promote tourism, boost the rural incomes, access to markets, schools and hospitals, and have only degraded.
These poor roads deprive people from meeting their needs. For instance, children avoid going to schools, patients are not able to reach the hospitals, earning members are not able to bring any income or food to the house because the risks of meeting with a terrible accident while travelling through these dangerous roads outweighs the risks of the inability to meet their needs.
In addition to the complications that have been cited above, these poorly maintained roads which have more of potholes and less of roads have a serious negative impact on the health and wellness of people. The potholes in the highways and local roads contribute to many medical problems in people, like slipped disc, lumbar disc, neck and back pain, spinal pain, cervical spondylitis, also increases the risk of miscarriage in women with poor obstetric history.
It is the spine that holds the neck and torso upright and allows flexibility and mobility to the body. Back pain is endemic among office goers particularly those travelling long distances daily with less physical activity. Rough roads send vibrations and jerks through the body and can cause stress fractures (tiny cracks in the bone that are caused by repetitive force, usually from overuse) and permanent damage to the spine. Two-wheeler riders and drivers over the age of 40 years are among the worst affected with two wheeler riders being more affected. They usually suffer from chronic pain syndrome due to underlying spondylitis issues in the neck and back which flare up due to persistent driving on roads full of potholes. It may even cause lumbar disc bulge, pain, dizziness and numbness.
Travelling in vehicles over large potholes can lead to serious spinal injuries. Sudden braking of vehicles due to potholes may cause a whiplash injury to the spine (forceful, rapid back and forth movement of the neck), and when the passenger already suffers from spinal stenosis (pressure on spinal cord and nerves), it may result in paraplegia –the loss of sensation in both hands and lower limbs. Such injuries may require surgery and sometimes patients may never recover and become bedridden.
I have personally encountered victims of this condition who have been enduring the pain of slipped disc for many years which restrains them from driving to distant places, also some have to live through the adverse effects of cervical spondylitis. They are to be supported with a neck collar, unable to drive, have giddiness frequently and are undergoing treatment. Physiotherapists have also claimed there has been a huge rise in the number of patients seeking treatment for back pain which originates from driving in roads with potholes. The people of Meghalaya are suffering because of poor planning and infrastructure and may continue to suffer because of their silence.
The worst affected roads in Meghalaya are the Shillong to Dawki highway, South Garo Hills district roads, Shillong-Jowai road, etc, even the roads in many parts of the city like the Polo to Rynjah road, Ganesh Das hospital road and many more have been neglected. The administration has turned a blind eye to these matters. The main reasons for the proliferation of potholes are the inferior quality of raw materials and unscientific road laying techniques employed by contractors to cut corners, lack of timely and effective repair, indifference and callousness on the part of the authorities.
The government must take accountability for this, as people are dying and suffering in pain but do not voice it out. The residents of Meghalaya are unable to use their abilities to their maximum potential because their health is in jeopardy. I urge the people in power to take prompt action in this matter and hope that Meghalaya would soon have the best quality roads as it will decrease health risks, increase employment potential, thereby boost the state’s economy and development.
(The writer is currently with IIPH Shillong)


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