A Universal Guide to Neck Pain, its Causes, its Symptoms and its management
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re already familiar with neck pain. Whether you’ve just woken up with a whopper of a crick in your neck, sustained an injury or have been dealing with chronic neck pain, this article can help you understand the pathophysiology of neck pain and learn more about the common treatments for neck pain. We’ll also touch on the different symptoms of neck pain and when you should consult a doctor or a pain management specialist.
Neck pain may be sharp and located in one spot, or it might b
e spread across a broader region. Sometimes the pain gets spread up to the head creating an extremely annoying headache. Other times it can be accompanied by muscle spasms in the neck, upper back, or around the shoulders. Less commonly, shock-like pain or tingling may radiate down into the shoulder, arm, and/or hand causing great discomfort.
The duration of neck pain can be commonly classified as follows:
- Acute: Pain that lasts less than 4 weeks.
- Subacute: Pain that lasts 4 to 12 weeks.
- Chronic: Pain that lasts 3 or more months.
What Causes Neck Pain?
Neck pain causes include:
- Muscle strain: Muscles overuse, such as too many hours hunched over the computer screen or smartphone, often triggers muscle strain. Even minor things, such as reading in bed for prolonged intervals or gritting your teeth, can strain neck muscles.
- Worn joints: Just like the other joints in the body, the neck joints tend to wear down with age too. Arthritis, especially Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage (cushion) between the neck bones (vertebrae) to deteriorate and damage the neck joints irreversibly. This massively affects the joint motion and cause pain.
- Nerve compression: Herniated disk in the neck can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
- Injuries: Motor vehicle collisions often result in whiplash injury, which occurs when the head is jerked backward and then forward, straining the soft tissues of the neck. Pain is also caused by sports or other accidental injuries and can cause a weakening of neck muscle ligaments causing neck pain.
- Diseases: Certain conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis or cancer, can cause neck pain.
Some of the common symptoms are:
- Pain often worsened by holding your head in one place for long periods, such as when driving or working on a computer
- Muscle tightness and spasms
- Decreased ability to move the head or painful movements
The nature of the neck pain can be excruciating and can vary from a consistent sharp pain to “pin and needles” sensations and can cause severe distress to the patient. Hence it is one of the common reasons for one’s visit to a neck pain specialist in Singapore for help.
Most neck pain can be treated with nonsurgical methods, such as self-care at home and/or with guidance from a neck pain specialist. Some forms of treatment include:
- Medications: Over-the-counter pain relief medications, such as nonsteroidal antinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen, are typically tried first for neck pain. If neck pain persists, you may be prescribed stronger analgesics, such as prescription-strength NSAIDs or muscle relaxants.
- Ice or heat: Applying an ice pack can help reduce swelling and pain. Heat therapy also helps relax muscles and bring more blood flow to the injured area.
- Gentle stretches and exercises: Mild to moderate intensity neck pain or muscle tightness can be alleviated with gentle range of motion stretches and exercises.
- Massage: A massage therapy can soothe muscle tension and spasms, reducing pain and promoting relaxation.
- Physical therapy. A physical therapist can teach one the correct posture, alignment and neck-strengthening exercises, and can use heat, ice, electrical stimulation and other measures to help ease the neck pain.
- Short-term immobilization: A collar that supports the neck may help temporarily relieve pain by taking pressure off the structures in the neck.
- Steroid injections: Corticosteroid medications can be injected near the nerve roots, into the neck joint or the muscles in the neck to help with pain.
- Surgery: In some cases, might be an option for relieving nerve root or spinal cord compression.
How You Can Prevent Neck Pain?
There are certain simple measures one can take to prevent neck pain. These include:
- When sleeping, make sure your head is the same height as the rest of your body
- Use a firm mattress when lying down
- Sit in an upright position. Roll your shoulders back gently and bring your neck back.
When to See a Doctor?
Most neck pain improves gradually with home treatment or simple analgesics. If not, see your doctor or a pain management specialist for further treatment, if
- pain or stiffness does not go away after a few weeks
- painkillers like Paracetamol or Ibuprofen do not work
- the pain spreads down to arms or legs
- or you have other symptoms, like pins and needles pain or a cold arm , which could be something more serious.
What To Expect When I Visit The Pain Relief Clinic
A typical visit will involve our doctor first understanding your medical history, concerns and previous experience with other pain treatments.
For patients who have consulted many people but have yet to receive a clear diagnosis, selecting an affordable imaging scan might be recommended to confirm the cause of your pain..
Some patients have already done scans with other doctors for their pain condition but are still not clearly told what they suffer from.
Dr Terence Tan is happy to offer you a second opinion and recommend how best to manage your condition.
We also see patients who already have a confirmed diagnosis from specialist pain doctors, but are "stuck” because treatment options offered are not practical or acceptable.
We can help by discussing options that you might have potentially never been told of.
A common experience is when a patient has already consulted a specialist doctor for pain management and is told to consider orthopaedic surgery which they find too aggressive.
Or they may have seen doctors for their pain and were prescribed painkillers with potential side effects which made them feel uncomfortable.
Many of our patients have also first tried complementary treatments or acupuncture with traditional Chinese pain doctors.
They look for a second opinion after finding any relief experienced from other treatments to be temporary or requiring repetitive treatments, which add up to time and cost.
Especially in such situations, we emphasize using non-invasive medical technology you likely have not been told about .
This can make a big difference to your results.