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Neck Conditions

Neck Conditions

Neck pain may be caused by simple muscle strains and heal after a few days. However, it may also be due to more serious factors, such as spine problems and other diseases, and require immediate medical care. Learn the important things to know about neck pain, including its possible causes and treatments.

Medically reviewed by Dr Chua Soo Yong ,
Consultant Orthopaedic & Spine Surgeon
MBBS (S’pore), MRCS (Edinburgh), MMed (Ortho),FRCS (Ortho), FAMS (Ortho)

What is the Cervical Spine (Neck)?

The cervical spine refers to the neck area of the spine. It consists of 7 stacked bones (vertebrae), from C1 to C7, performing various functions for the neck, with the first two playing significant roles. The first vertebra (C1), sometimes called the atlas, is a ring-shaped bone that begins at the base of the skull, which holds the head upright. The second vertebra (C2), also referred to as the axis, enables the atlas to pivot against it, allowing the side-to-side movement of the head.

What are the Functions of the Cervical Spine?

The cervical spine serves various functions for the body, including:

  • Protecting the spinal cord
  • Supporting the head
  • Allowing head movement
  • Creating a safe passageway for vertebral arteries

What is Neck Pain (Cervicalgia)?

Neck pain is characterised by pain located in the neck and sometimes radiate down on one or both of the arms. It is very common for people to experience pain in their neck at some point throughout their lives, and usually, it is simply due to a muscle strain or some other benign cause that resolves with time.

However, more serious conditions may also cause neck pain, such as spinal stenosis, pinched nerve, herniated disc, or tumours. If the pain persists or is severe, then it is time to see a neck pain doctor, preferably one who specialises in matters of the spine/neck.

What Causes Neck Pain?

Degeneration/Wear & Tear
  • As with all parts of the body, the elements in the neck will wear away as we age, causing pain and stiffness in the neck.
  • Other degenerative conditions that cause neck pain include cervical fractures, cervical disc degeneration, arthritis and inflammation.
Bad Posture/Sleeping Position
  • Being hunched over all day or falling asleep with insufficient or improper support for the head and neck can cause one to wake up feeling sore in the neck.
Whiplash (Sudden Jolt to the Neck)
  • When the head is suddenly thrown forward (usually during a car accident or sport), it causes the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the neck to potentially stretch and tear.
Brachial Plexus Injury
  • The brachial plexus is a network of nerves responsible for sensation in the arm and hand, and any injury to these nerves can cause weakness, immobility or loss of sensation.
Pinched Nerve
  • A pinched nerve, also known as cervical radiculopathy, is when nerve irritation in the spinal cord in the neck causes pain and weakness in the arm as well.
  • Common causes of a pinched nerve include a prolapsed disc and arthritis of the neck.
Stress and Tension
  • This can cause muscles around the head, neck and back of the shoulder to tense up, causing a sensation of tightness and pain.
Other Diseases
  • This may include rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, serious injury, damage to the vertebrae and spine, infections and other bone disorders.

When to Seek Medical Attention For Neck Pain

Neck pain due to muscle strain can typically resolve with rest and at-home treatments in a few days. However, if the symptoms persist, you should consult a doctor to properly diagnose the issue. Furthermore, you should seek immediate medical attention if the pain is accompanied by serious symptoms such as:

  • Fever, sweats, or chills
  • Headache
  • Weakness in the arms or legs
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Numbness and/or tingling
  • A lump in the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Changes to vision or hearing
  • Pain radiating down the arms
  • Decreased ability to move the head
Dr Chua Soo Yong is an experienced orthopaedic neck specialist in Singapore who is skilled in diagnosing and treating all neck conditions.

Make an appointment at 6262 0555 today.

How Is Neck Pain Diagnosed?

A doctor can generally diagnose the cause through evaluating one’s medical history and performing a physical exam to assess the alignment of the neck and head, observe the range of motion, and check for any signs of tenderness or strain. A range of imaging tests may then be performed in order to confirm the diagnosis and determine the type of treatment needed.

Non-surgical Treatments
  • Medications – In some very mild cases, the doctor may prescribe pain medications and muscle relaxants to reduce inflammation and strains.
  • Steroid Injections – In some cases, the doctor may inject steroid medications near the nerve roots to alleviate pain.
  • Physiotherapy – The patient may be referred to a physiotherapist to guide them on exercises that strengthen the muscles in the neck to relieve pain andimprove flexibility.
Surgery for Neck Pain
  • Discectomy with Spinal Fusion – This involves the removal of a damaged disc and any spurs in the cervical spine and the placing of a piece of bone (either from the patient or a donor) in between the vertebrae to support the neck and maintain spinal stability.
  • Cervical Artificial Disc Replacement – An alternative to spinal fusion, this involves the replacement of the damaged disc in the cervical spine with an artificial disc.
  • Laminectomy – This involves the removal of the ridged area at the back of the vertebra (lamina), discs, bone spurs, and ligaments, to relieve pressure in the spinal cord or nerves. In most cases, this procedure may also require a spinal fusion.
  • Laminoplasty – This may be an alternative to laminectomy if the neck pain is not related to motion. Instead of removing the lamina, the surgeon creates a door-like hinge to relieve pressure in the spinal cord.

How to Prevent Neck Pain

While not all causes of neck pain can be prevented, these tips can help to reduce the chances of it happening, or alleviate its severity:

  • Practising Good Posture – Practising good posture includes keeping the shoulders aligned and the back straight when seated, adjusting the height and reclining of seats, and positioning computers and phones properly to prevent slouching and straining the neck.
  • Exercising and Staying Active – Exercises can help strengthen the muscles to prevent strains. Additionally, it is beneficial to take adequate rests and perform stretches when sitting or standing for long periods to release tension in the muscles and the neck.
  • Maintaining a Good Sleeping Position – Adopt a good sleeping position and use supportive pillows to support the neck.
Find answers to commonly asked questions here

Recovery from neck pain depends on its cause and severity. For most patients, neck pain may heal after a few days to about 2-3 weeks with adequate rest and conservative treatments. However, in more severe cases of neck pain caused by more serious conditions, such as arthritis, meningitis, or other spinal problems, treatment will be more complex and recovery will take a longer time as well.

In cases of neck pain caused by muscle strains or tension, the pain can usually heal on its own within a few days. However, in cases of chronic neck pain, please consult a specialist for an accurate diagnosis and to determine the right treatment plan.

Dr Chua Soo Yong
Consultant Orthopaedic & Spine Surgeon
MBBS (S’pore), MRCS (Edinburgh), MMed (Ortho), FRCS (Ortho), FAMS (Ortho)

With over 10 years of specialist experience treating back and neck issues, Dr Chua Soo Yong is skilled in effectively treating all conditions of the spine. Dr Chua specialises in both open and minimally invasive spine and neck procedures. He frequently performs spine decompression, instrumented fusion, and disc replacement surgeries, as well as complex neck and spinal surgeries.

Make an appointment with our specialist, Dr Chua Soo Yong, at 6262 0555 today.
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We are well-equipped to diagnose and treat all back, spine, and neck injuries.

3 Mount Elizabeth Suite #06-09,
Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre
Singapore 228510

Tel : 6262 0555
Fax : 6684 0985
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Sat : 9.00am - 1.30pm
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Atlas Spine & Orthopaedic Surgery Centre provides subspecialty back and spine treatments tailored to each patient’s needs. For a detailed consultation, make an appointment with us at 6262 0555 today.