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A ‘pre-hab’ perspective

How to keep farmers doing what they love… longer
DeAnna Ottinger, Milligan University Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy and Aliceson Bales, 8/23/2021

Farmers are a tough, hardy lot, but they are also human. Many start their day with a cup of black coffee and medication to help deal with the various aches and pains that come as a result of their daily routines. 

A common goal for farmers is to stay at it for as long as possible. Research shows the average age of farmers in America is 57.5 years, with one-third of farmers over 65 years of age — retirement age for many professions. Twenty-seven percent of farmers are “new” to agriculture, meaning they’ve been at it for less than a decade. Whether a person has been farming for five months or 50 years, agriculture can take a toll on a body. 

An ounce of prevention

Healthy living today can mean a better quality of life in the future. If you could take steps now to avoid arthritis in the future, why wouldn’t you? Arthritic conditions — extremely common among all walks of life, especially for farmers over the age of 60 — can be managed before symptoms begin to affect daily activities. Osteoarthritis, a common arthritis condition, is caused from the wearing down of joints, usually from overuse. Common sites for arthritis are hands, hips, and knees. Degeneration of the joints can result in needing replacements, which means surgery and time away from the farm. 

Work smarter, not harder

Therapists call this energy conservation. Consider a full pitcher of water. The water represents the amount of energy you have for a given day. If you expend a great deal of energy in the morning unloading 50-lb. bags of feed by hand, you have poured out half of your pitcher of water. If you had backed up your truck and used a dolly or wheelbarrow to help unload the heavy bags, then you would have only used a fourth of your pitcher, leaving more energy remaining for the other tasks in the day. Though you can lift those bags, it doesn’t mean you should. Consider the following:

• Decide where you want your energy to go by alternating the hardest tasks with less difficult chores.

• Place a tall stool in the barn to provide a place to rest and off-load weight from your hips and knees while working.

• Keep tools and supplies in buckets so everything you need is in one convenient place.

• Use bigger muscle groups when possible. For instance, rely on your whole palm to open a jar versus using a finger grasp.

No pain, no gain 

Pain is the body’s way of getting your attention. Pain and inflammation go together. When you feel pain, it’s a sign you have inflammation in the joints where the pain is located. Words we hear as clinicians are stiffness, swelling, and soreness, but they’re all from the same source — inflammation. So pay attention to the pain! Use equipment to make your jobs easier throughout the day. That neck stiffness you feel from looking over your shoulder while baling hay is because your head is not made to look back for extended periods of time. Consider the following: 

• Place mirrors thoughtfully on the tractor to help when backing and hooking up to equipment.

• Add handle extenders for brooms, mops, hoes, and rakes.

• Utilize stools or benches for kneeling, weeding the garden, milking, etc.

• Attach a step extension to decrease the step height to a tractor or other machinery.

These are just a few tips and tricks to help ease your workload and keep you farming longer, living the life you love. 

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