Treatment & management of neck pain


Back and neck pain can range from irritating to debilitating. The onset can be sudden – triggered by a fall, or whiplash, or by lifting something heavy – or it can occur over time. 

Though it's not always possible to locate the root cause of neck or back pain, there's thought to be a link between neck pain and tense muscles. Muscles in the neck can get tense after working at a desk for a long time or sleeping in an awkward position.

For some people, pain in the neck or back may last days or weeks. For others, this pain may become chronic, lasting more than three months, sometimes for years. There are several ways to treat neck and back pain.

What are the treatment options for back or neck pain? 

Back or neck pain often gets better on its own without the need for treatment. But there are a couple things you can do while you wait for your pain to subside. Medicines such as paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen can help reduce the pain or provide temporary relief – speak to your pharmacist about which painkiller is most suitable for you. 

Medicines include:

  • Paracetamol
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. NSAIDs are not suitable for everyone, so speak to your pharmacist if you're unsure whether you should take them
  • Muscle relaxants or antidepressants are sometimes prescribed by doctors for certain types of pain

If you're suffering with chronic back pain, your doctor will be able to advise you on what treatment option is most suitable for you.

What are non-medical treatment options for chronic back or neck pain?

There are several options to consider that may help you avoid relying on painkillers. Your doctor can help you decide on the best treatment for you.

  • Hot or cold packs – heat will increase blood flow which helps to heal, whereas coldness helps with inflammation
  • Stretching gently and moving around can decrease stiffness 
  • Strengthening exercises, with the guidance of a medical professional like a physiotherapist, can also help lessen chronic pain and may reduce the risk of future strain
  • Behavioural change – such as learning how to lift heavy loads safely or improving your posture

What are surgical treatment options for severe cases? 

Surgical treatment is recommended only if other treatments have not helped, and there is an indication of worsening nerve damage – or diagnostic tests show structural changes which can be corrected by certain surgical procedures. Rare cases of back pain in which surgery may be proposed include:

  • Herniated or ruptured disc 
  • Spinal stenosis (a shrinking of the spinal column) 
  • Spondylolisthesis (when bones slip out of place) 
  • Vertebral fractures and degenerative disc disease, or damage to the spine’s discs as a person ages

Next steps

  • If your back or neck pain is acute (less than three months), you can ease the discomfort with painkillers or ease it with gentle exercise
  • If your pain is severe or if it does not improve after a few weeks, if it gets worse or if you’re worried, see your Doctor