The Definitive Guide to Treating Neck Pain

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The neck, a complex structure connecting the head to the torso, comprises bones, muscles, nerves, and more. It supports the skull while allowing flexible movement for sensory perception and communication between the brain and the body. Injury to the neck, considering its crucial role, can have severe consequences. It is important to take care of your neck to avoid discomfort or injuries. Fortunately, there are ways to alleviate neck pain under the guidance of an experienced orthopaedic surgeon.

An Introduction to Neck Pain

Neck pain can arise from either injury or non-injurious factors, particularly poor workplace ergonomics. Inadequate adjustability of computer monitors and chairs, alongside awkward monitor placement, often forces individuals to work with their necks at uncomfortable angles. This issue becomes more pronounced when an underlying neck condition is present, which often leads to neck strains. Over time, muscle fatigue sets in, characterized by neck pain and other symptoms.


The Various Causes of Neck Pain

Neck pain can have three main causes:

  1. Muscular pain happens when neck muscles are overworked. Oftentimes, it feels like an aching or cramping in the back of the neck, shoulders, and upper back.
  2. Discal pain comes from the cartilage between 2 bones in the spinal column. If the outer part tears, it can lead to sharp pain and possible disc problems.
  3. Facet joint pain occurs when the spine’s joints, called facet joints, wear out. This can cause mild to severe neck pain.

Common Symptoms Associated with Neck Pain

Neck pain can manifest with various symptoms, and individuals may experience them differently. Shooting pain down the arms can occur due to pinched nerves in the neck, described as electric currents running through the arms, often triggered by neck positions, known as radicular pain. Arm or hand numbness and weakness result from nerve compression, impacting sensation and arm mobility. Tingling, burning, or crawling sensations, called paraesthesia, can also stem from nerve pinching within the spinal canal. Severe narrowing of the cervical spinal canal can exert pressure on the spinal cord, potentially leading to spinal cord softening and issues with hand coordination. In severe cases, unsteadiness while walking may occur, known as myelopathy, increasing the risk of falls and injury.


Exploring Surgical and Nonsurgical Treatments for Neck Pain

The treatment of neck pain primarily revolves around addressing the underlying condition, and orthopaedic surgeons offer a comprehensive range of both surgical and non-surgical options for managing neck pain. These treatment approaches encompass medications to alleviate neck, shoulder, and arm pain, as well as lifestyle modifications and ergonomic advice tailored to workplace-related neck pain management. Neck muscle physiotherapy is also used to enhance neck strength, improve function, and relieve symptoms. Additionally, pain procedures are available to target the root causes of neck pain, and in certain cases, surgical interventions may be necessary to release pinched nerves and stabilize a degenerated cervical spine.

Nurturing Your Neck: Essential Tips for Neck Health

To prevent neck pain and injuries, you should focus on improving your posture, especially while walking, sitting, and doing your daily activities. Slouching can strain your neck and leave you susceptible to discomfort and potential injuries. You can also maintain proper neck, head, and back alignment by keeping your head, shoulders, and hips stacked when sitting or standing, and take regular breaks to stretch and reset your posture, particularly if you spend extended hours at a desk or on your feet. Pay attention to your sleeping position as well; choose a pillow that supports the natural curve of your neck and upper back to prevent discomfort caused by misalignment during sleep. Additionally, as an athlete, incorporating regular upper back and neck stretches into your fitness routine can help release tension and reduce the risk of injuries, but specific stretches should be incorporated to address these areas effectively.

When to Seek Medical Attention for Neck Pain

If you experience severe neck pain caused by an injury like a car accident, diving incident, or fall, it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention. This type of injury does not go away after simple bedrest or home remedies. In other cases, where your neck pain is not caused by an injury, you should contact an orthopaedic surgeon if you have chronic neck pain that does not subside even after trying pain medications for relief.

Additionally, if the pain spreads to your arms or legs, or if it is accompanied by symptoms like headaches, numbness, weakness, or tingling, these signs indicate the need for medical evaluation and appropriate care. You will undergo a medical evaluation or interview, diagnostic testing (X-rays or MRIs) so that your orthopaedic surgeon can create a treatment plan for you.


Neck Pain Surgery: When Is It Necessary?

Surgery becomes an option for neck pain when conservative or traditional treatments prove ineffective. This treatment may be considered if the patient’s functionality and mobility decline due to persistent pain. Additionally, surgery is necessary when the patient experiences progressive neurological symptoms affecting the limbs and if they lose the ability to walk and keep their balance. In such cases, surgery is considered as a potential solution for addressing the underlying causes of neck pain and improving the patient’s quality of life.

What to Expect in Follow-Up Care After Neck Pain Surgery

When neck pain is successfully managed through non-surgical, conservative treatments, the follow-up typically takes an as-needed approach, where patients are encouraged to reach out if their symptoms reappear or worsen. However, for those who undergo surgery to address their neck pain, the follow-up process is on a frequent basis. Each surgical procedure necessitates distinct post-operative care and monitoring. This tailored approach ensures that patients receive the appropriate attention and guidance to facilitate their recovery and optimize the outcomes of their surgical intervention.


Questions To Ask Your Orthopaedic Surgeon

When facing neck pain, consulting with an orthopaedic surgeon is a crucial step in seeking effective treatment and relief. To make the most of your consultation and ensure you have a comprehensive understanding of your condition and potential solutions, it’s essential to ask the right questions:

  1. What is the cause of my neck pain?
  2. What are my treatment options for neck pain and which approach do you recommend based on my condition? Am I a suitable candidate for this treatment?
  3. Are there any non-surgical interventions that can be explored before considering surgery?
  4. What is the expected outcome of the recommended treatment, and what are the potential risks or complications?
  5. Can you explain the post-operative care plan if surgery is recommended, including the expected recovery timeline and follow-up appointments?


What are the causes of neck pain?

Neck pain can be caused by various factors, including muscular strain from overwork, tears in the intervertebral discs (discal pain), and wear and tear of facet joints in the spine (facet joint pain).

What are the symptoms of neck pain?

Symptoms associated with neck pain can vary but commonly include shooting pain down the arms (radicular pain), arm or hand numbness and weakness, tingling or burning sensations (paraesthesia), and in severe cases, coordination issues and unsteadiness while walking (myelopathy).

What are treatments for neck pain?

Treatments for neck pain encompass a range of options, including medications to alleviate pain, lifestyle modifications, ergonomic adjustments for workplace-related neck pain, neck muscle physiotherapy, pain procedures targeting the root causes, and in some cases, surgical interventions to release pinched nerves and stabilize a degenerated cervical spine.

What is the best treatment for neck pain?

The best treatment for neck pain depends on the specific underlying cause and the individual patient’s condition. Conservative treatments such as medications, physiotherapy, and lifestyle modifications are often the first-line approach. However, surgical intervention may be necessary in cases where conservative methods prove ineffective or when there are severe neurological symptoms.

When should I seek medical attention for neck pain?

Seek immediate medical attention for neck pain if it results from a severe injury like a car accident, diving incident, or fall, as these injuries often require urgent medical evaluation. In other cases where neck pain is not due to an injury, it’s essential to contact an orthopaedic surgeon if you have chronic neck pain that persists despite trying pain relief medications or if it is accompanied by symptoms like headaches, numbness, weakness, or tingling, as these signs warrant a thorough medical evaluation and appropriate care.



Dr Yong Ren’s Profile

Dr Yong Ren graduated from the National University of Singapore’s Medical faculty and embarked on his orthopaedic career soon after. Upon completion of his training locally, he served briefly as an orthopaedic trauma surgeon in Khoo Teck Puat hospital before embarking on sub-specialty training in Switzerland at the famed Inselspital in Bern.

He underwent sub-specialty training in pelvic and spinal surgery, and upon his return to Singapore served as head of the orthopaedic trauma team till 2019. He continues to serve as Visiting Consultant to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

Well versed in a variety of orthopaedic surgeries, he also served as a member of the country council for the local branch of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Osteosynthesefragen (Trauma) in Singapore. He was also involved in the training of many of the young doctors in Singapore and was appointed as an Assistant Professor by the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. Prior to his entry into the private sector, he also served as core faculty for orthopaedic resident training by the National Healthcare Group.

Dr Yong Ren brings to the table his years of experience as a teacher and trainer in orthopaedic surgery. With his expertise in minimally invasive fracture surgery, pelvic reconstructive surgery, hip and knee surgery as well as spinal surgery, he is uniquely equipped with the tools and expertise necessary to help you on your road to recovery.

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Sarah Taylor

Obstetrics & Gynaecology