What’s the best way to relieve neck pain if you have cervical arthritis?

Hello Doctor,

When I was in my early teens I had a farming accident driving a tractor up the side of deep culvert and it rolled over on me and almost killed me.  I had multiple fractures with my left arm, shoulder blade and collar bone, and I had head injuries that made my skull out of kilter.  As a result I have had frequent headaches and neck pain for most of my life.  Some days I can hardly move my neck.  But I have to tend livestock 365 days a year. 

I have gone to the chiropractor in our town on and off for many years when the neck and head gets to be more than I can tolerate.  I feel great for the first month or so after I see doc for a neck cracking, but then the neck pain and stiffness between my shoulders  slowly creeps back up on me and starts to tighten up like a screw. Is there anything you can tell me to relieve my pain even if I am loaded with neck arthritis?  Thanks for the great website.  I appreciate it.   Paul


Greetings Paul,

First of all, please stop that neck cracking talk.  Do you realize how comments like that scare people who have never gone to a chiropractor to benefit from a chiropractic adjustment?  You give the wrong impression of something that has helped you so much of your life. I know you are so comfortable with what your chiropractor does that you use that kind of terminology in a teasing and familiar way, but it can prevent people from seriously thinking about going to a chiropractor.  When you say things like that it is difficult to spread the word that gentle spinal adjustments (that sometimes result in some popping noise when a correction is made) are much safer than anything an MD does.  OK?

Next, you need to talk to the chiropractor you are going to and ask him that same question about what you can do to help yourself between adjustments.  Anyone with cervical arthritis, especially if it is advanced and it is constantly aggravated by overuse and abuse, will experience flare-ups and need attention from time to time.  If he is a good guy he will give you some pointers how you can take care of your neck pain better than you are doing now.  It sounds like your neck and upper back are a mess so he probably would not mind having you tend to your problem to help him out. 

Come to think of it, if he has been taking care of you for a while he has probably given you neck exercises to do, and if you are like the average farmer you have not done them because you think you are too busy and you think you work hard enough that you do not need any additional exercise.  Am I right?  I’ll bet I am.  I practiced for many years in a rural town of 50,000 people and I had a ton of farming families come to me, so I know how you guys operate.  You take better care of your livestock than you take care of yourself, you abuse your body while working 12 hour days, you don’t do what you are told to help yourself, and then you complain to your wife and the chiropractor how bad your neck pain and headaches are.  I know how it goes. 

Here is an outline for what you can do to give yourself relief from arthritis neck pain between trips into town:

            1. Do neck exercises and stretches while you are in the truck or tractor during the day. It can be done and you do not have to stop doing your work.  Just fill in your time while you are working by doing something that is good for you. 
            2. Use an ice pack and heat for neck pain at the end of the day before you go to bed.  You can do this while you are watching a little TV or when you go home to eat lunch and you are listening to the grain price reports on the radio. 
            3. Study when your problem acts up.  There is probably something in particular you are doing that bothers your arthritis more than the others.  You want to identify what it is you are doing that is bothering your neck the most so you can minimize it if possible; once you identify the activity or posture that bothers your neck the most you can figure out how to modify or reduce that trigger to your neck problem.  It might be carrying bags of feed on the same shoulder and are forced to tip your head to the side every time you feed livestock; or it could be that you are always leaning or turning your neck to one side while you bounce around plowing or harvesting.  Look for the things you do day in and day out, especially those things that keep your neck and upper body turned our twisted in one position,  I’ll bet there are a lot of things you are doing that are bad for you. You will find them. When you do, the solution might be as simple as doing them from the opposite side or in some different way.  Be creative. 

Lastly, the farm is a dangerous place to work.  You are out alone with no one around you for miles to help you if you get into trouble. You are self-employed and you work too hard, too fast, for too long, sitting on or sticking your arms into equipment that is way too dangerous to be around, and you take way too many chances.  There is no one looking over your shoulder to tell you that you are doing something dumb – so you wind up taking a lot of chances and getting hurt.  I can remember working on a few one-armed, one-legged, or no-legged farmers over the years.  Be careful.   

Take care of yourself, Paul, and be good to that poor chiropractor who has to put up with you.  DL