Areas of the body (neck)


What is neck pain?

Neck pain is pain that is felt in the upper part of the spine. It is sign that the joints, muscles or other parts of the neck are injured, strained or not working properly. Neck pain is very common, with about 1 in 10 people having it at any given time. Although uncommon, neck pain can be an early sign of axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA).

When is neck pain due to arthritis?

axSpA commonly develops in the lower back and hips but, in some cases pain and stiffness can be felt in the neck.  This is usually due to inflammation of the spine. Inflammation can cause bone to grow within the joints of the spine, which can eventually affect the cervical spine (the neck region of your spinal column), causing pain and stiffness.

It is common for a person with axSpA to develop unrelated neck pain from other causes, such as overuse or sleeping on it wrong

Should I see a doctor?

If you have been diagnosed with axSpA you should talk to your doctor or other health professional if you are experiencing neck pain. They will ask you about your symptoms, examine you and assess your arthritis. They may also check for any serious medical problems that could be causing your pain, but these are rare. You should see your doctor if:

  • you have neck pain following a fall or accident, such as a car accident
  • your pain does not settle down or starts getting worse
  • you also have symptoms such as headache and vomiting, dizziness, losing weight, tingling or numbness in the arms or legs, sweats and chills or problems swallowing.

What can I do?

1. Talk to your healthcare team. 

It is normal to worry about the cause of your pain and how it will affect you. Talking to your doctor or other health professional about your worries can be helpful. 

2. Learn about neck pain and play an active role in your treatment. 

Not all information you read or hear about is trustworthy so always talk to your doctor or healthcare team about treatments you are thinking about trying.  Self-management courses aim to help you develop skills to be actively involved in your healthcare. Contact your local Arthritis Office for details of these courses.

3. Learn ways to manage pain

Talk to your healthcare team about ways to relieve your pain. There are many things you can try, including:

  • taking your arthritis medications
  • acupuncture: this has been shown to be helpful for longer-term neck pain
  • manipulation or mobilisation of the neck may reduce pain in the short-term but the long-term benefits are unproven.

4. Stay active. 

Your neck is designed for movement. The sooner you start moving your neck normally the sooner your neck will feel better. You may need to rest or reduce some activities when the pain is bad. But resting for more than a day or two usually does not help and may do more harm than good. See your physiotherapist or other health professional for advice about exercises to keep your neck moving.

5. Acknowledge your feelings and seek support

It is natural to feel scared, frustrated, sad and sometimes angry when you have pain. Be aware of these feelings and get help if they start affecting your daily life.

6. There are many other treatments for neck pain that have not been well proven.

Some unproven treatments may still be useful, however further research is needed. These treatments include:

  • TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation
  • electrotherapy (physiotherapy treatments involving an electric current, such as electrical muscle stimulation, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy)
  • massage
  • magnets
  • herbal medicines
  • heat and cold (for example, hot water bottles, heat packs, ice packs)
  • traction.

Neck collars have been proven not to be useful for neck pain. Your healthcare team can give you more advice and information about whether any of these or other treatments might be useful for you.