I was recently asked an interesting question: “If you have bad posture and have a decompression procedure, won’t the results eventually diminish as the bad posture would re-injure the nerves?” There was actually a recent, non-scientific article in a different publication (http://gizmodo.com/my-smartphone-gave-me-a-painful-neurological-condition-1711422212) which suggested that posture secondary to cell phone use was a factor in the development of ON in some people. As you might suspect, I don’t know of anyone who would argue with the concept that good posture is important for any number of reasons. However, can it cause ON to recur after an adequate decompression procedure? Not likely.
As the article above suggests, even a little flexion or extension in the neck can lead to significant increases in pressure on the nuchal structures. The reason is that many of these structures, such as the nerves, pass through very small spaces on their way to the scalp. When those spaces which are tight to begin with are narrowed even just a little bit, the increase in pressure on the nerve can be dramatic. However, it is not the bending or as to the point here, the bad posture that causes the neuralgia, it is the tight space becoming tighter. When these narrow spaces are opened up, the reverse is also true - the pressure on the nerves can dramatically decrease. The two pictures of the greater occipital nerve below illustrate the concept (warning- not for the easily grossed out).
In the picture on the left, you can see the greater occipital nerve (long arrow) bulging out of the semispinalis muscle (short arrow) - a well-described compression point for this nerve. After removal of a small amount of said muscle (the upper and lower edges of which are denoted by the limbs of the “V”) you can see the GON more clearly. What is also dramatic is that the nerve appears much smaller even though the picture on the right is at slightly higher magnification. This all happens within a few minutes in the OR. Anyone who has ever tied a rubber band tightly around the base of their finger for a minute and had a nice purple digit knows exactly what happens when the rubber band is released. The key here is balance. As a surgeon I want to make enough space so that the nerve can now move freely with almost any position or posture, but not so much space that I remove too much muscle and cause some imbalance or weakness. Moreover, when patients move their heads post-operatively, which I insist my patients do gently right away, the gliding prevents significant scar formation and re-narrowing of these spaces. Hence, if done correctly, persistent poor posture following decompression should not cause the ON to return. Hope that helps.
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