Types of Neck Pain

Types of neck pain

Before we deep dive into the causes and ways to improve neck pain and stiff neck, first a little anatomy to explain why the neck is so important and how neck pain can predispose to other health conditions.

The cervical spine (neck) is the top part of the spine, made up of 7 bones, connecting the head to the rest of the body. The main functions of the cervical spine are for supporting the skull, movement of the head and directing the nerves from the brain to the rest of the body. This last function may sound a bit strange. The neck directs the nerves for the whole of the body?

The cervical spine protects the spinal cord

When the messages from the brain leave the skull, where is the first place they go? The neck! This is properly termed the cervical spine. To properly manage this, in the bones at the top of the neck (just next to the opening in the skull) is the brainstem (the top part of the spinal cord). This is a control centre for vital functions, via nerve pathways, such as the interomedial nucleus (IML). The IML influences blood pressure, digestion, breathing, balance and the cranial nerve root (the ones that supply sensation and function to the head and face).  

If there is a problem in the bones of the neck, such as an injury, fracture or misalignment of the bones, this can interfere with the normal functions of the brain stem. This may lead to 1 of 2 things happening:

  1. Irritation of the brainstem and IML (spinal cord)
  2. Postural changes to compensate
types of neck pain woman wearing green sweater

So how would the body compensate?

The body will naturally start to produce aberrant postures, such as leaning to one side or bending forward. This is a reaction from the body to reduce pressure at the brainstem, which could have a bigger detrimental effect on the body via the nervous system. The side effect is neck pain, due to this uncomfortable posture. The neck pain is because of imbalances in the muscles and joints. This is seen as poor posture but may be just the reaction to the brainstem irritation.

While this is a smart process by the body to prevent more serious problems (such a damaging the nerves for breathing or digestion) it is still uncomfortable, producing poor posture. Read on to find out more about types of neck pain and what you can do to solve them.

Types of neck pain

The causes of neck pain are important to be established, to ensure that the treatment is appropriate. Types of neck pain include:

Muscle pain 

This can be due to overuse or spasm of the muscles, which causes neck pain. Muscle tension or muscle pain may be due to exercise, repeated habits or improper posture (such as turning to one side all day during work). In these cases the muscles get tired so feel sore. 

Muscle spasms may seem more random, happening suddenly. Muscle spasm is usually the body reacting to try to protect the nerves and bones in the neck. For example, think of the last time you nearly fell over (but didn’t actually fall). Instinctively you would have tensed up your muscles to protect you. The same happens in the neck.

If your body perceives there to be a danger or possibility of injury it will spasm the muscle. This can include injury to the bone, discs or nerves, if this is about to happen the muscle tenses to protect you. In this sense, the muscle spasm is actually a helpful protective mechanism, but it feels painful at the time!

Nerve pain

This is any pain or symptom due to interference or damage to the nerves. Neck pain can be due to injury to the nerve root in the neck or in other surrounding structures, such as the shoulder. This would produce referred pain.

If the nerves in the neck are damaged they can cause local pain, especially at the top of the neck (where the most important neck nerves are located at the nerve roots). There can also be referred pain from surrounding structures, such as the arm or shoulder. This is less common. The nerves all start in the brain, passing down the neck to the rest of the body including the shoulder and arm. The messages in the nerves don’t just travel in one direction, they go back and forth. Therefore an injury to the arm or shoulder may rarely send pain into the neck (though it is far more common for the neck to refer pain to the arm). This can also present as tingling, numbness or pins and needles.

In some cases the nerve pain may be referred pain from another body structure, such as an organ. If this is the case further investigation is needed to rule out more serious conditions. 

Bone pain

This can be due to injury directly to the bone itself or due to pain from the facet joints. True bone pain could be due to injury, causing a bruise or potential fracture. If this is the case, it is important to seek medical attention as it could be something needing immediate attention.

The facets are the joint which connect the bones of the spine, allowing stability and movement. However, if the joints are damaged, or there is arthritis building up for years, then they may irritate the surrounding nerves producing pain. This is typically due to an improper prolonged posture, unless there has been a direct trauma. 


Whiplash is left until last on this list because it can potentially include all other types! Whiplash is a type of injury to the neck, where the neck quickly moves backward and forwards. This is common with head on collision car accidents, sports injuries or other traumas.

This can damage the nerves, joints, bones, ligaments and muscles. This can result not only in pain in the neck but damaging the nerves to the head, shoulder or arms, causing other symptoms. If a whiplash occurs an x-ray is important to rule out a serious pathology.

typed of neck pain newpaper chiropractic vitality singapore

sleeping positions for neck pain

While many companies may say this pillow or device can cure neck pain, there is truly no “best” sleeping positions for neck pain. When experiencing pain the most comfortable position may be strange but as long as it provides relief at the time it may be useful short term. 

For long-term prevention of neck pain (this can also be tried as a sleep position for neck pain), the following should be done:

  1. Keep the head in a neutral/central/middle position. This means the head should be in the centre of the body, the same as when you are walking around. The head should not be too far backward or forward, left or right, and shouldn’t be rotated left or right. The head and neck should line up with the body, don’t turn your head.
  2. Sleep on your back or side, but never on your front. Sleeping on the front forces the head to be rotated the whole night, putting a lot of strain on the neck!
  3. Use as many pillows as needed for your body type. Point 1 says the head should be central, the pillows you use should help you to do this. There are no magic pillows that cure neck pain. But the right number and size of pillows for your body will help to keep this good posture. 

Chiropractic care for neck pain

Chiropractic care is a proven approach to help with neck pain for many people. Research shows that Chiropractic care is a safe and effective way to help neck pain, without the need for medication or surgery.

Chiropractors use specific manual techniques, called adjustments to help improve the alignment of the spine, reducing the nerve pressure and muscle imbalances, relieving neck pain. Upper Cervical Chiropractic is a health speciality dedicated to just the neck, it is particularly effective with neck pain and other neck pain related problems, such as migraines, headaches, vertigo, dizziness, stomach issues and problems with immunity.

What is different about Upper Cervical Chiropractic?

Upper Cervical Chiropractors go through extensive additional training for a more accurate analysis and correction of problems with the neck. This includes different testing procedures and techniques to correct the underlying cause of the pain. This ensures longer lasting results, especially in chronic recurrent cases.

If you have any questions or need help finding the Singapore Chiropractic centre to help with stress, then contact us via 8438 9550 or help@vitalitychiropracticcentres.com, or comment on Facebook or Instagram.

Since 2013, Upper Cervical Chiropractor, Dr. Shaan Rai helped patients achieve greater health, relocating to Singapore in 2016 and founding Vitality Chiropractic Centres. He has an impressive track record in providing relief and solutions for people who experience nerve system problems, such as headaches, migraines, dizziness, vertigo or neurological conditions.

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For a Complimentary, no-obligation call with the Doctor or to book a Consultation, call +65 8438 9550 or email help@vitalitychiropracticcentres.com to find out if we can help you at our Chiropractic Clinic in Singapore.

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