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Twist and Shout – What a Pain in the Neck

It had been several years since I had any significant degree of neck pain, other than the standard stiffness one might get from turning at an odd angle or sitting with a rigid neck posture for too long. I had forgotten just how miserable it makes my life. That is, until a few weeks ago when I woke up one morning to a neck so stiff, I could barely turn my head from side to side without intense pain. At first, I thought I had “slept on it funny”, as my mom used to say.

Is neck pain a new RA symptom?

I have no idea how or why this happened and that, in and of itself, annoys me. I tell myself all the time with RA symptoms: if I could just figure out why, I could then 1) figure how to treat it, and 2) prevent it in the future. Truthfully, I need to let go of this since RA is so random and unpredictable that clinging to this is not only futile but completely unproductive.

In need of quick relief from this neck pain

With that in mind, I told my rheumatologist and my physical therapist and they both offered some suggestions that have helped to a small extent, but not to the degree to which I wish they would. Oh, and I should mention, I HAVE NO PATIENCE. I somehow believe that I should come home, armed with these treatments and get relief in just a day or two. And I mean complete relief.  Well, guess what? That is not going to happen. This is not like an ear infection that is relieved within 24 hours of going on an antibiotic.

I have learned that when you tweak your neck, it can take 4-6 weeks to get any measurable relief! What a nightmare. So, I am doing my exercises, and I have added a few tricks of my own.

Neck pain relief for rheumatoid arthritis

Direct heat for neck and shoulders

One thing that helps is to get one of those wonderful fleece, gel-filled or bead-filled wraps that sit over shoulders, up your neck, and down the top of your back. You heat them in the microwave before applying and it really does ease the pain and stiffness. A heating pad works too, but I really prefer something that fits to the area so perfectly.

Warm water for muscle relaxation

If you have access to a hot tub or jacuzzi, allowing those hot jets to hit those muscles is heaven. It really loosens up those tight tendons. That also applies to a nice shower where you can direct the stream to that part of your neck and should area.

Consider a simple neck brace

I have also found that wearing a simple neck brace gives me some benefit as well. When it is painful, I tend to tense up my whole neck and shoulder area, which just aggravates the issue.  This is especially true when I am driving. The very nature of driving can be stressful and you turn your head a lot when you consider backing up, checking over your shoulder, etc.  Having a neck brace on really has helped.

A hot stone massage

Finally, I get a hot stone massage. AHHH. I do make sure to carefully inform the therapist that this is a tender and troublesome area so that I do not get deep tissue massage but rather a hot stone gentle massage. It helps so much.

Despite my own impatience, I am seeing small improvements every day and I am certain that will continue if I use all of the tools at my disposal.



This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • tulugaq
    6 months ago

    Neck stiffness and pain was the first and strongest symptom of RA, 12 years ago. I finally saw a rheumatologist when I couldn’t drive anymore, since I had to turn my whole body if I wanted to turn my head.

    Fortunately, the neck pain disappeared as soon as I went on Remicade. Surprisingly, most people I’ve talked with about this have said that neck pain is a rare RA symptom, and this is the first forum where I’ve seen it addressed.

  • mcadwell
    6 months ago

    Neck pain was also one of my first symptoms. And others I know with RA have said that as well. I don’t know why your rheumy would say it was rare since RA can affect any bone in the body (including the hyoid bone in the throat and the tiny bones in the ear).

  • Disney1962
    6 months ago

    Sunbeam has some good heat pads. I’ve had one for years and they have a great guarantee(not a paid endorsement). Just a fact. 🙂 I use it every night after work. It leans against back of neck, on shoulder and back. Check em out. Your story is relateable, because I expect immediate relief from whatever the Dr. recommends…lol….Wishing all a good day and better tomorrow.

  • karenb54
    6 months ago

    Thanks for your article and sorry about the pain. I suffered through 3 years of severe neck pain, doctor visits and visits to physical therapy. I did purchase a heat wrap which helps tremendously. I also purchased an inflatable cervical neck shoulder traction support pillow. I would use the two every chance I had. Recently I joined the gym and, knock on wood, I have not had to use them.

  • Mary Sophia Hawks moderator
    6 months ago

    Hi Nan!
    Great suggestions! It’s the realization that RA is going to do what it’s going to do that is hard to accept.
    Sunbeam now makes a heating pad that goes around the neck and attaches with magnets and the pad extends all the way down the spine. It is perfect for neck and shoulder pain.
    Gentle hugs,
    Mary Sophia

  • 2mra
    6 months ago

    Hi Nan:

    Sorry that your neck is paining you. That’s good that you are having success with your fleece bags, hot stones massage, etc.

    I’ve had a painful neck and shoulders for mannnyy years. And it’s not all from my hubby either. HA!

    I’ve used the same ideas you do except for the hot stones. I’ve also used the acupuncture and suction cups but those didn’t work on me, as it has for some.

    My hubby bought me a tens machine originally for my back OA which worked. He put it on my neck and shoulders and I was happy to note that it works for a couple of hours there also, which is nice.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    6 months ago

    Hi 2mra. My wife, Kelly, also has a TENS unit. Hers was prescribed by her doctor following a knee revision (second replacement), so we managed to get it covered by insurance (although only after a fight). Our contributor Andrew wrote here about using TENS as part of a larger PT and OT program: Hope your TENS continues to give you relief. Best, Richard ( Team)

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    6 months ago

    Nan, you can also get your 8 year old grandson to jump on your neck and call you a bounce house.

    That does not help anything. In fact that may be what caused the neck pain in the first place. Or it might be his 10 year old cousin, laughing at me as I fell down.

    Hmm,, come to think of it, hot stones might be a better option.


  • wandahughes68
    7 months ago

    Thank you for your story; I have neck pain too but my main problem is the Rheumatologist I see; the only decent one in our small town, is moving to Chicago. I can’t drive to a larger city so I’m feeling stuck and depressed. Any jokes or laughter is welcome to me.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    6 months ago

    Hi wandahughes68. Sorry to hear that your doctor is leaving town. Your stress is certainly understandable. Don’t know if there is a chance there might be a rheumatologist not too far away, but wanted to share this resource finder page, including health professionals, from the Arthritis Foundation: You may also want to ask your doctor if telemedicine is an option for directing your care. This is becoming more widely used, particularly as the shortage of rheumatologists becomes more of an issue and rheumatology care becomes more concentrated into urban areas. Your GP may also have some thoughts on this. Wishing you the best. Richard ( Team)

  • Daniel Malito moderator
    7 months ago

    @nmhart14 Twist and shout! You know I love those clever titles. 🙂 I also find a good massage at the right pressure can work wonders, but I rarely am able to stop and get one. I get neck cramps suddenly for some reason, but only on the right side. It’s awful. Great post. Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • wandahughes68
    7 months ago

    I love to hear encouraging, funny stories from rheumatoid arthritis friends

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