Neck Pain - FAQ

Frequently asked questions

A: Depending on the cause of your neck pain, you can try the following:

  • Apply heat or cold treatment, using heat or ice packs
  • Take over-the-counter pain medications, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • Do some slow and gentle stretching
  • Get a massage
  • Try acupuncture
  • Consider chiropractic care
  • Limit heavy lifting and physical activities that may aggravate your neck pain, especially using handphones and laptops
  • Reduce stress, to release muscle tension
  • Adjust your sleep environment or sleeping posture

A: Treatment for neck and shoulder pain varies depending on the cause. Conventional treatments for neck and upper back pain include:

  • Rest
  • Hot or cold compresses
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication such as ibuprofen, paracetamol and acetaminophen
  • Prescription muscle relaxants, if OTC medication is ineffective
  • Physiotherapy
  • Cortisone shots in the shoulder
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Surgery, in rare cases

A: If you are thinking of non-medical self-treatment to alleviate your neck pain, consider the following:


Swimming can strengthen the supporting neck muscles, and this may help relieve sore, stiff necks. But if you are still in pain after swimming, you need to look closely at your stroke technique and align your head properly with your body while swimming.


Research has shown that massage may relieve neck pain if it is done often by a professional therapist and for the correct length of time (preferably for 60 minutes per session 2 – 3 times a week)


The medical literature on whether acupuncture is an effective treatment has been mixed. Some studies have suggested that acupuncture can provide temporary relief for a chronic stiff neck, but more research is needed in this area.

Chiropractic care

Chiropractic care is a non-surgical treatment option that may help reduce your neck pain and related symptoms through specific adjustment techniques to relieve the pressure on the nerves.

A: When you are sleeping, use sleeping aids such as a pillow to keep your cervical spine in neutral alignment, so that the natural curve of your neck is supported and maintained. Alternatively, you can try sleeping on your back.

When you are studying or working at your desk, try to redesign your workspace to encourage a well-aligned posture. You can improve the ergonomics of your workstation by:

  • Positioning your monitor, so that your eyes are level with the top of the screen and you can see without straining
  • Positioning your mouse and keyboard such that your forearms are parallel to the floor
  • Keeping frequently used tools within easy reach
  • Adjusting your chair height, so that you are sitting with a slightly reclined posture that follows the natural curve of your spine
  • Having your feet touch the ground while seated

A: You can start by consulting an orthopaedic specialist for your head and neck pain. However, your orthopaedic specialist may refer you to another specialist, such as a neurologist, depending on their assessment of the cause of your head and neck pain.

A: If the suspected cause of your neck pain is nerve problems, a neurologist will be the best medical specialist to determine if your pain is being caused by nerve damage or compression.

A neurologist can use certain diagnostic tests to pinpoint the specific location of the affected nerve, and will consider a varied range of non-surgical treatment options before offering surgery as a final resort.

A: Do see a doctor if your neck pain:

  • Is severe
  • Is accompanied by weakness, sensation of numbness or tingling in the upper limbs
  • Lasts for weeks or months
  • Drastically limits your ability to move your head
  • Radiates into the shoulders
  • Feels worse in the morning

Your doctor will be in the best position to advise you on the most effective treatment for your neck pain.

A: Ways to relieve a sore or stiff neck when sleeping include:

  • Sleeping on your back or side in a position that helps maintain your spine’s natural curves, with the help of sleeping aids like pillows
  • Avoid sleeping on your stomach, so that your head is not forced to one side for hours at a time
  • Making sure you are getting a good night’s sleep
  • Gently stretching your neck before bed and when you first wake up

A: Sleeping on your side is one of the best ways to keep your head neutral, with your chin straight ahead. A contoured pillow can help you maintain a neutral position while you are lying either on your back or on your side. Do not elevate your head so high that your upper ear is forced toward your shoulder.

A: It is rare but neck pain can be a symptom of a more serious problem. Do seek medical care if:

  • Your neck pain is accompanied by numbness or loss of strength in your arms or hands
  • You have shooting pain into your shoulder or down your arm

A: Although neck pain does not signal a serious medical problem most of the time, there are occasions when it is a sign of a more serious condition such as:

Heart attack - Neck pain may be a sign of a heart attack if:

  • You are female
  • It is accompanied by other signs, like severe fatigue, shortness of breath, sudden or excessive sweating, or chest pain or pressure

Cancer - Neck pain may be a sign of cancer if:

  • You have a lump, swelling or a sore that does not heal
  • It is accompanied by other signs, like mouth problems (white or red patches, pain or bleeding, bad breath), persistent throat or facial pain, frequent headaches, numbness in the head and neck region, ear pain or ringing in the ears, voice changes or hoarseness, or nasal problems (nosebleeds, congestion, unusual discharge)

Stroke - Neck pain may be a sign of stroke if:

  • The pain is unusual, persistent and often accompanied by a severe headache. It could be the result of a cervical artery dissection (a tear in one of the arteries of the neck).
  • You also have stroke symptoms such as dizziness, double vision, jerky eye movements, unsteadiness while walking, or slurred speech.

A: You can try these 4 easy stretches to improve neck flexibility and function:

  • Neck Extension (Backward Bending) - Look upwards and bring the head backward while keeping the shoulders and back stationary. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds before returning the head to neutral (starting) position.
  • Neck Flexion (Forward Bending) - Lower the chin toward the chest and look downward while only moving the head. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds before returning to neutral position.
  • Lateral Neck Flexion (Bending Side to Side) - Slowly bend the head to one side, bringing the left ear toward the left shoulder. Keep the shoulders and back still while the neck flexes laterally to the side. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds before returning the head to neutral position. Repeat in the opposite direction.
  • Neck Rotation (Turning Side to Side) - Keeping the back straight and shoulders still, gradually turn the head to the left as far as it can naturally go. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds before bringing the head back to neutral position. Repeat the same stretch to the right.
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