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Back and neck pain can happen for a variety of reasons. "Poor posture, working at the desk for prolong period, bad sleeping position or sudden jerk are some of the possible reasons," according to doctors from the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

If the pain persists over a period of time and without apparent cause, it might be due to wear and tear (degeneration), osteoarthritis which causes the cartilage between your vertebrae to deteriorate, or in some cases, diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Treatment​ of back and neck pain

The exact treatment depends on the cause of the pain, but generally in mild cases you will be advised on:

Lifestyle and posture modifications

  • This may include advice on how to perform manual tasks such as lifting loads to minimise spine injury, and also how to optimise your posture when working and sleeping.

Physiotherapy

  • For many patients, a programme of supervised physiotherapy will be helpful in alleviating neck/back pain and maintaining proper spine health.
  • Treatment will normally begin with measures to relieve pain such as traction and heat therapy, followed by exercise programmes to improve the strength and stamina of spinal muscles.

Medication

  • There is no medication that can cure neck and back pain, but medicines can be used to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, decrease spasms and soothe nerve (‘neuropathic’) pain while physiotherapy is progressing.

When will I need surgery?

Surgery is advised when nerve compression is severe and there is a risk of permanent nerve damage, and when symptoms are persistent and disabling despite maximal non-surgical management. There are many types of surgery available for the various causes of spinal disorders, but some of the more common procedures include:

Discectomy for removal of prolapsed (‘slipped’) discs

  • In the lower back (lumbar spine), this can also be achieved via minimally invasive surgery which can potentially lead to quicker recovery and a short hospital stay.

Spinal fusion

  • In some patients, back pain is due to instability of the spinal column which can be due to degenerative changes in the spine. In such cases, your specialist may advise that the unstable portions of the spine be joined together so as to limit abnormal movements and thus reduce pain.
  • Such procedures are currently normally performed with special rods and screws to increase the success rate of the procedure.

Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty

  • In older patients who are suffering from persistently painful osteoporotic fractures of the lower back vertebrae, these relatively simple procedures have proven to be useful in relieving pain and improving mobility.
  • In both procedures, a special bone cement is injected into the fractured vertebra to stabilise it, but in kyphoplasty, the fractured vertebra is also expanded using a special balloon device before the cement is injected.

Patients who suffer from chronic back or neck pain and conventional treatments have not been able to achieve the expected result, they can consider minimally invasive surgery.

Read on for more details on the benefits of minimally invasive spine surgery.

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