Neck Pain And Stiffness

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Dr Kau Chung Yuan (许医生)


MRCS (Ireland)

MMed (Ortho)

FRCSEd (Ortho)


What is Neck Pain and Stiffness?

Neck pain and stiffness refer to discomfort and reduced flexibility in the neck region. This condition can range from mild discomfort to severe, debilitating pain and can affect mobility and quality of life.

Any abnormalities, inflammation, or injury can lead to neck pain or stiffness. While often not a sign of a serious medical condition, persistent or severe neck pain and stiffness can indicate underlying health issues that require medical attention.


The causes of neck pain and stiffness are varied, often involving multiple factors. The most common causes include:

  • Muscle Strain and Tension
    This often occurs due to various activities and behaviours, such as maintaining poor posture, prolonged desk work without position change, sleeping with the neck in an awkward position, or jerking the neck during exercise.
  • Injury
    The neck is particularly vulnerable to injury, especially in falls, car accidents, and sports, where the muscles and ligaments of the neck are forced to move outside of their normal range.
  • Degenerative Diseases
    Conditions such as osteoarthritis can cause the cartilage between the vertebrae to deteriorate, while conditions like rheumatoid arthritis can lead to inflammation of the neck joints.
  • Nerve Compression
    Herniated discs or bone spurs in the vertebrae of the neck can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
  • Diseases
    Certain diseases, such as meningitis or cancer, can lead to neck pain.


The symptoms of neck pain and stiffness can vary significantly in intensity, duration, and type. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Pain and Soreness: This is often localised in the neck area but can radiate to other parts of the body, such as the shoulders, arms, back, or head.
  • Stiffness: A noticeable reduction in the ability to move the neck, especially when trying to turn the head to the side.
  • Sharp or Stabbing Pain: This type of pain is usually localised in one spot and might feel more intense when moving the neck in certain ways.
  • Headaches: Often a result of neck stiffness or tension, headaches, particularly at the back of the head, are common.
  • Numbness or Tingling: These sensations might occur if nerve compression is involved, often radiating down the arms and into the hands.
  • Muscle Weakness: This can be a sign of nerve compression or damage, and might affect the arms or hands.
  • General Fatigue: Accompanying neck pain, a general feeling of tiredness or discomfort can be present.


Are Your Symptoms Affecting Your Quality Of Life?

Consult our MOH-accredited orthopaedic specialist for an accurate diagnosis & personalised treatment plan today.


Diagnosing neck pain and stiffness typically involves a combination of medical history evaluation, physical examination, and sometimes, diagnostic tests. The process includes:

  • Medical History
    This involves discussing symptoms, any previous neck injuries or treatments, and overall health history with the orthopaedic surgeon.
  • Physical Examination
    The orthopaedic surgeon will check for tenderness, numbness, and muscle weakness, as well as assess the neck’s range of motion and the impact of certain movements on pain levels.
  • Imaging Tests
    X-rays can reveal areas of the neck where nerve roots or the spinal cord might be pinched by bone spurs or other spinal problems. CT scans and MRIs provide more detailed images and can help identify possible causes of neck pain such as spinal cord compression, herniated disks, or tumours.
  • Nerve Tests
    Electromyography (EMG) can help determine if nerve signals are travelling properly to the muscles.
  • Blood Tests
    These can help identify underlying conditions that might be contributing to the neck pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Non-Surgical Treatment Options

Non-surgical treatments for neck pain and stiffness focus on pain relief and improving neck function. These include:

Pain Relief Medications

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or naproxen can alleviate mild neck pain.

Muscle Relaxants

These may be prescribed to ease pain and muscle spasms.

Physical Therapy

Involves teaching correct posture, alignment, and neck-strengthening exercises. Physical therapists may also use heat, ice, electrical stimulation, and other methods to relieve pain and prevent recurrence.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

Employs a low-voltage electrical current for pain relief.


Uses devices to gently stretch the neck, which can help relieve pain and muscle tightness.

Short-term Immobilisation

A soft collar can support the neck, relieving pain by taking pressure off the neck structures. It is generally used for a short duration.

Corticosteroid Injections

These injections may be used for pain relief in specific cases.

Surgical Treatment Options

Surgery for neck pain and stiffness is generally considered only when non-surgical treatments have not provided relief and when there is a clear, identifiable cause that can be addressed surgically. The main surgical options include:

  • Discectomy: This involves the removal of a herniated or degenerative disc that is pressing on a nerve root or the spinal cord.
  • Cervical Fusion: In this procedure, two or more vertebrae are joined together, usually with bone grafts and metal hardware, to stabilise the neck.
  • Foraminotomy: This surgery enlarges the bony hole (foramen) where a nerve root exits the spinal canal to relieve pressure caused by bone spurs or herniated discs.
  • Laminectomy: Involves the removal of the lamina, the back part of the vertebra that covers the spinal canal, which enlarges the spinal canal to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
  • Artificial Disc Replacement: This is a newer surgical technique where a damaged cervical disc is replaced with an artificial disc.

Dr. Kau Chung Yuan

MBBS (S’pore)

MRCS (Ireland)

MMed (Ortho)

FRCSEd (Ortho)

Dr Kau (许医生) is a Fellowship trained Orthopaedic Surgeon with a subspecialty interest in Hip and Knee surgery and has been in practice for more than 15 years.

He is experienced in trauma and fracture management, sports injuries, and joint replacement surgery.

  • Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh, Orthopaedics (FRCS, Edin) 2014
  • Master of Medicine (Orthopaedics), Singapore (MMed) 2013
  • Member of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (MRCS, Ire) 2009
  • Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS, Singapore) 2004

Preventive Strategies

Preventing neck pain and stiffness involves a combination of lifestyle changes, ergonomic adjustments, and regular exercise. Key measures include:

  • Maintaining Good Posture: Proper alignment of the body reduces strain on the neck. This is particularly important when sitting for long periods, such as at a desk or when using electronic devices.
  • Ergonomic Workstations: Adjusting desks, chairs, and computer screens to maintain the neck in a neutral position helps prevent strain.
  • Regular Exercise: Strengthening and stretching exercises for the neck, shoulders, and upper back can improve posture and reduce the likelihood of pain.
  • Taking Breaks: Periodic rest and stretching during long periods of sitting or repetitive activities can alleviate neck tension.
  • Sleeping Position and Pillow: Using a pillow that supports the natural curve of the neck and sleeping in a position that does not strain the neck are important.
  • Stress Management: Techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, or meditation can help reduce muscle tension in the neck.
  • Healthy Weight and Nutrition: Maintaining a healthy weight and a balanced diet supports overall health, which can indirectly help prevent neck pain.

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Patient Feedback

Ethan Chan
Dr. Kau is an exemplary doctor who is experienced in his field and is very patient with his patients. He walked me through the details of my knee condition and addressed all my concerns. Thanks to Dr. Kau, I had a better understanding of my ACL and MCL injury and the various treatment options available. His advice and treatment have been very valuable to me.
Ming Lee Chua
Dr Kau was very careful and explained clearly the surgery procedures. After surgery, the care while I was in hospital was closely monitored and he even came during weekends! The hip so far has recovered and healed. His ‘predictions’ of when what can happen are so accurate. Trust him.
Teo Pek Suan Diana
I had a very successful total hip replacement done by Dr Kau 4 years ago. 4 months after the operation I was back walking, cycling and swimming. The beautiful job gave me much confidence Dr Kau is most professional and has such great doctor patient communication.

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    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    Can Neck Pain Be a Sign of Something Serious?

    While most neck pain is not indicative of a serious condition, in rare cases, it can be a symptom of a more serious issue, especially if accompanied by other symptoms like severe headache, numbness, weakness, or trouble with balance. Consulting an orthopaedic surgeon for a proper evaluation is recommended.

    How Long Does Typical Neck Pain Last?

    Most acute neck pain due to muscle strain or minor injury typically improves within a few days to a few weeks. Chronic neck pain, however, can last for several months or longer, depending on the underlying cause.

    Are There Any Specific Exercises I Can Do for Neck Pain?

    Yes, there are specific exercises for neck stretching and strengthening that can help relieve pain and improve function. It is advisable to consult a physical therapist for a tailored exercise program.

    Is It Better to Use Heat or Ice for Neck Pain?

    Both can be effective. Ice can be used for acute injuries or inflammation, while heat can help relax and loosen tissues and stimulate blood flow to the area.