Mamae ā-kakī Neck pain

Many people suffer from neck pain, and it can have a variety of causes. The most common are injury and arthritis.

Symptoms of neck pain

Along with pain in your neck you may have reduced movement to your neck. Moving may make the pain worse.

The pain may spread to your shoulder blade, shoulder, arm or your head.

You may also feel numbness or tingling in part of your arm or hand.

You should seek urgent medical attention if you:

  • have flu-like symptoms along with a stiff painful neck
  • have severe neck pain after an injury, such as a motor vehicle accident, diving accident or fall
  • lose function in your arm such as weakness or clumsiness or you have persistent loss of feeling
  • have trouble walking or passing urine.

Diagnosing neck pain

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your neck pain and examine you.

If your neck pain does not get better quickly or your healthcare provider is concerned, you might need to have an x-ray or scan such as an MRI scan.

MRI — HealthInfo (external link)

Self care for neck pain


You can help relieve your neck pain by gently moving it often during the day. Most people find the chin tuck (or retraction) exercise gives them the best relief.

You can do this simple exercise while sitting down. Gently slide your head backwards while looking forwards, keeping your chin level with the floor. Imagine a spider dangling down in front of your face and moving your head out of its way.

Sitting posture

Good sitting posture is important. If you sit correctly, your neck will not be strained, and you'll have less pain.

The key to good neck posture is having support in your lower back. Sit up as straight as you can and place some support, like a rolled towel, in the small of your back.

When you are looking at your smartphone or tablet, make sure you hold it up in front of you to avoid bending your head forward for long periods.

At your desktop computer, make sure the top of its screen is at your eye level. You might need to bring the screen forward on your desk to avoid poking your head forwards to read it.

You might also find it helpful to put your laptop on a stack of books or box to raise its screen up to eye level, and to use an external keyboard.

Pain medication

As well as exercise and watching your posture, you may want some pain relief. If so, take it regularly, as that is more likely to ease the pain enough to let you exercise and stay active. Pain relief will not completely take the pain away, but it may take the edge off it.

Anti inflammatory pain medicines such as ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen may be helpful. However they may not be suitable if you have other health issues such as asthma, stomach problems, high blood pressure, kidney or heart failure. Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist if it safe for you to take them.


If you are waking up during the night with neck pain, or notice your pain is worse in the morning, you may find it helpful to change your pillow. When you are lying on your side, your neck should be in a straight line from your back to your head. Make sure your pillow is the right thickness — too thick or thin and your neck will be on an angle which will get uncomfortable.


If you have been off work with a sore neck, get back to work as soon as possible — you do not need to wait for the pain to go away. Returning to work (or staying at work if you can) generally helps to heal your neck.

If you are worried about your work, talk to your employer and treatment provider about what you can and cannot do. Some people need to gradually ease back into their usual work tasks, perhaps doing fewer hours and not doing physical tasks like heavy lifting or twisting or sitting for too long.

ACC can also help you get back to work if you are having problems returning to your normal duties.

Your recovery at work guide — ACC (external link)

Getting help for neck pain

If you do all the things mentioned above, your neck pain should start getting better within a week, even if it does not go away completely.

If it has not started getting better, or if your pain is getting worse you should see your healthcare provider, chiropractor, osteopath or physiotherapist.

Clinical review

This content was written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. It has been adapted for Health Information and Services.

Clinical advisers — HealthInfo (external link)