Preliminary findings on the effect of load-carrying to the structural integrity of the cervical spine

Surg Radiol Anat. 1994;16(4):393-8. doi: 10.1007/BF01627659.


Carrying loads on the head is a common practice in rural Zimbabwe. Headloading imposes a considerable amount of strain to the axial skeleton. The cervical spine, being the most cranial and mobile part of the vertebral column, may be susceptible to spondylosis or disc degeneration in headloading. Age as well as the effects of intrinsic factors on cervical spondylosis have been well documented. However, studies on the effect of extrinsic weight bearing to spondylosis on the cervical spine are lacking. In this study, the effect of headloading on the pattern of spondylosis attributed to aging was examined. Results indicated that age led to significant degeneration of the fifth intervertebral disc space (P < 0.05) as well as significant straightening of the lordotic curve (P < 0.01). Load carrying seems to accentuate the straightening of the curve (P < 0.001). The results also suggest that headloading creates a shift in the degeneration from the fifth intervertebral disc space to higher levels. It is concluded that carrying heavy loads on the head alters the pattern of degenerative changes of the cervical spine.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Cervical Vertebrae / anatomy & histology*
  • Cervical Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Cervical Vertebrae / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Lordosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Lordosis / physiopathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiography
  • Spinal Osteophytosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Spinal Osteophytosis / physiopathology*
  • Weight-Bearing