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Not all neck and back pain will require intrusive treatments, but you should still get your condition checked, says Head & Senior Consultant at NUH’s University Spine Centre, Associate Professor Gabriel Liu (Department of Orthopaedic Surgery).

Back and neck pains are common – a Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study has identified lower back pain as a health problem worldwide and categorised it as one of the top ten common conditions and challenges. Based on a 2017 NUH study, it is estimated that one in 10 Singaporeans will have scoliosis (a curved spine) in the lower back of the lumbar spine region.

“While there is no definitive study in Singapore to identify the cause for this, the reasons for such an increase may be due to poor sitting and standing postures, and lifestyle-related factors.”

In the last decade, lifestyle changes due to prolonged sitting from computer usage and the use of mobile handheld devices involving prolonged forward bending of the neck and back may be possible reasons that can lead to early spine degeneration and pain.

But despite the high prevalence of spinal pain, not all neck and back pain will require extensive treatment or surgical intervention, as most of these adult spinal curve deformities are mild.

To know whether your back pain needs serious attention, you should look for the presence of red flags which include: Pain after trauma (like a fall or road traffic accident), the presence of neurological deficit (such as leg or hand numbness), difficulties in urinating or bowel movements, and unsteady gait.

Spinal pain that causes fever and unexplained weight loss of more than 10kg within six months, spinal pain at rest or pain that wakes one up at night (different from experiencing difficulties falling asleep), progressive spinal deformities (curved spine or progressive hunch back), and pain that persists for more than four to six weeks after treatments, are some other red flags.

More often, these spinal pains can be managed. Pain killers, muscle relaxants and physiotherapy or acupuncture can help you manage spinal pain.

Back braces can help to temporarily reduce back pain, but one should limit its use to one to two weeks at the onset of the pain, as prolonged usage of the brace in acute back strain will weaken the back muscle and affect spine muscle recovery.

By maintaining good posture and exercising regularly, you can reduce pain development and occurrence.

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