Rheumatoid Arthritis and Headaches – Causes and Management

Headache in the back of the head accompanied by a neck ache is most commonly associated with rheumatoid arthritis. If rheumatoid arthritis involves the first three cervical vertebrae, the pain is felt at the back of the head and neck, mostly involving one side of the head. In case of temporomandibular joint involvement, the pain is also felt in the jaw.

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

  • Headache in the back of head
  • Neckache
  • Swelling in the neck area
  • Swelling in other joints
  • Joint stiffness mainly in the morning
  • Steady pain
  • Neck stiffness
  • Fever
  • The fingers and hands do not appear straight.
  • Numbness and tingling if a nerve is compressed due to herniated disc.

The pain usually aggravates upon movement. The symptoms mainly depend upon the extent of severity of arthritis.

How can rheumatoid arthritis cause headaches?

  • Rheumatoid arthritis can begin at any age since it is an autoimmune response in which the body attacks its tissues and destroy bony areas that form the joints. This generally affects any joint in the body and causes deformity. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis headache, the cervical spine is involved. The pain is felt due to compression of the nerve that supplies the back of the head and scalp.
  • Another type of arthritis is osteoarthritis which is also responsible for a headache if the cervical spine is involved. osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, this does not affect joints but targets the ligaments and weakens them. As the body begins the healing process, the ligaments get calcified and impair joint mobility. Calcification also narrows the space between the joints obstructing the foramen through which the nerve has to pass in the spine.

Management of RA and associated headaches

Rheumatoid arthritis is not something you can treat once an for all. Since it is associated with a lifelong condition, proper management is only possible by avoiding triggers and making major lifestyle changes.


For proper diagnosis X-rays of the neck and other joints will be required. A herniated disc might also be visible in a severe case. To get better knowledge about the extent of damage, a CT scan and MRI are advised.


Since it is caused due to an autoimmune disorder, there is no way to prevent it. However, by making lifestyle modifications you can lower your chances or make your symptoms less severe in the early stages of the disease.


The progression of the disease can be slowed down but not stopped. Several medications prove to be helpful:

  • NSAIDs can be used to reduce inflammation in the joints and pain caused by it
  • Acetaminophen is also an effective treatment for pain relief due to Headache
  • A neck brace might also help in the worst cases.

Home remedies

  • Get proper sleep as not sleeping properly can trigger a headache
  • Avoid Caffeine as it can also interfere with your sleep and cause caffeine headache
  • Avoid cigarette smoke
  • Stay hydrated to avoid getting a dehydration headache
  • Try stress management techniques that will help you stay fresh and healthy
  • Get hot massages to relieve tension in muscles
  • Physiotherapy might be required in the case of a pinched nerve
  • Meditation and simple exercises can also help.

When to consult a doctor?

  • If you feel early morning joint stiffness and soreness in the joints that aggravate upon movement, you should see the doctor.
  • If you’ve already been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and you’ve been popping pills like Tylenol every other day to get relief from the headache you should consider booking an appointment with your doctor. This excessive consumption of Medication can lead to medication overuse headaches.


What is rheumatoid arthritis?

It is an auto-immune disorder in which the body fails to distinguish between its own cells and foreign bodies. This results in the destruction of joints and causes inflammation.

What should I take for pain relief due to headache?

Acetaminophen and other anti-inflammatories can prove relief.

What is the duration headache due to rheumatoid arthritis?

The pain usually lasts an hour or two after the trigger is removed.

Last medically reviewed on September 8, 2022.