The objective of this study was to determine the prevalence of neck pain (NP) in the world population and to identify areas of methodological variation between studies. A systematic search was conducted in five databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, OSH-ROM, and PsycINFO), followed by a screening of reference lists of relevant papers. Included papers were extracted for information and each paper was given a quality score. Mean prevalence estimates were calculated for six prevalence periods (point, week, month, 6 months, year, and lifetime), and considered separately for age, gender, quality score, response rate, sample size, anatomical definition, geography, and publication year. Fifty-six papers were included. The six most commonly reported types of prevalence were point, week, month, 6 months, year, and lifetime. Except for lifetime prevalence, women reported more NP than men. For 1-year prevalence, Scandinavian countries reported more NP than the rest of Europe and Asia. Prevalence estimates were not affected by age, quality score, sample size, response rate, and different anatomical definitions of NP. NP is a common symptom in the population. As expected, the prevalence increases with longer prevalence periods and generally women have more NP than men. At least for 1-year prevalence Scandinavian countries report higher mean estimates than the rest of Europe and Asia. The quality of studies varies greatly but is not correlated with the prevalence estimates. Design varies considerably and standardisation is needed in future studies.