Arthritis affects approximately one-third of all adult farm operators and is considered one of the leading causes of disability by customers of the USDA AgrAbility Project. With the average age of the American farmer now above 57, increasingly more farmers will find the tasks difficult to complete. For example arthritis can cause significant impairments to one’s mobility, dexterity, capacity to lift heavy loads and emotional well-being due to unmanaged pain and other factors.
Arthritis is an umbrella term for more than 100 diseases that can affect the joint and surrounding tissue. Common forms of arthritis include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, gout, and fibromyalgia.
Arthritis is considered one of the most disabling conditions a farmer can face and is the leading cause of disability of farmers in the Mid-Atlantic area. Arthritis affects approximately one-third of all adult farm operators. As work tasks become more difficult, many farmers and agricultural workers may not even associate the pain with arthritis. Signs and symptoms of arthritis include the following:
- Persistent pain
- Stiffness, swelling, redness or heat in the joint
- Difficulty in moving the joint
- Possible fatigue, weight loss and nausea
Arthritis is especially detrimental to farmers and farm workers because of the nature of their work. Many farm chores such as mounting tractors, baling hay, feeding livestock, harvesting vegetables, milking cows, operating equipment, cleaning out broiler houses require strength, dexterity, and mobility, which are lessened by the effects of arthritis.
According to medical professionals there are benefits of exercise for farmers with arthritis. Exercise can help you manage arthritis pain and reduce the disability as well as increase energy levels, help with sleep and decrease depression and fatigue. Exercise is also considered very important for healthy joints. Moving your joints helps keeps them fully mobile and strengthens the surrounding muscles which help support the joints.
Since there is no known cure for arthritis, education and awareness of pain management techniques are considered the best practice for treating the disease. This includes but is not limited to joint protection, work simplification and stress reduction. A few solutions that can be implemented to help control joint stress and pain in farming include the following:
- Wear quality, non-slip footwear
- Use appropriate assistive aids such as automatic couplers, mobility devices, hydraulic lift table, shop hoists, powered cordless caulk guns and more
- Adhere to proper posture when sitting for long periods of time in tractors
- Use large muscle groups to complete a task. For example use the legs instead of the back to lift.
- Avoid gripping and grasping for long periods of time.
- Simplify jobs and tasks
- Pace yourself throughout the day
Arthritis is a debilitating disease, but it is manageable. You will be able to farm productively and safely. The Mid-Atlantic Agrability Project and the Arthritis Foundation are willing to help in any way that they can. They promote technologies and given your tenacity and willingness to try, you can preserve your livelihood on the farm.
For more information on arthritis please visit Mid-Atlantic Agrability on the web at www.mid-atlanticagrability.com or visit the Arthritis Foundation at www.arthritis-ag.org. You may also call Mid-Atlantic Agrability toll free at 1-877-204-FARM (3276) for a DVD titled Gaining Ground on Arthritis in the Agricultural Workplace and a brochure titled “Arthritis and Agriculture”.