By Sharry Nielsen
Arthritis – it’s a chronic condition that most folks know something about, but most don’t think about until it affects them or someone they live with.
Arthritis is widespread in the United States, with over 50 million doctor-diagnosed cases. It is a condition that has been seen more and more frequently among farmers and ranchers, and, in recent years, has become a debilitating condition for some. It can reduce mobility, physical strength, and the ability to complete routine tasks.
But as ag producers experiencing the effects of arthritis you don’t need to be thinking retirement or a change of professions. Prevention can be a key to reducing some of the symptoms of arthritis. Although modifying tasks and equipment won’t reverse joint damage, it can help prevent further damage and pain.
To accommodate arthritis-related limitations or prevent arthritic symptoms, consider some of these assistive technology solutions:
- Use wheels to move feed, seed, tools and equipment to eliminate heavy lifting and carrying. Wheeled assistive devices might range from simple wheel barrows or dollies to motorized utility vehicles or golf carts, depending on the need.
- Use ergonomically-designed, lightweight tools to reduce joint stress, pain, and fatigue. Many are available at local hardware or farm supply stores. Look for ergonomic handles, extended handles, and spring-loaded or ratcheting tools to reduce pressure on joints while increasing leverage and force.
- Add mirrors to the inside and outside of tractor cabs to reduce the need to twist to see out of the back window.
- Install spinner knobs and handles to help with limited grasp and range of motion on the steering wheel. Thicker grips on hand tools also help with grip.
- Place cushioned mats on the floor in shop areas to help reduce joint and back pain.
- Many farm and ranch tasks can be modified slightly so they can be done more easily without stress to joints, especially when lifting or hauling loads.
The onset of arthritis symptoms may also be delayed with preventative measures you can follow. Many farmers think that pain is just part of the job, but there are ways to prevent or lessen the pain of arthritis. Working with an occupational therapy graduate student, Nebraska AgrAbility created a “Farmer’s Daily Stretching Program” to encourage ag producers to make stretches a part of their morning routine to strengthen all joints in the body. A brochure on safe lifting was also produced. Both of those brochures are available on the Nebraska AgrAbility web site, http://agrability.unl.edu.
Since there are over 100 forms of arthritis and each person’s body is different, it is important for farmers and ranchers to talk to their health care professional about treatment. Diagnosis, treatment and care should always be under the supervision of a medical professional. It is important to work with a professional to develop an effective treatment that fits you, to follow the plan, and to respect your body’s limits.
For more information about farming/ranching with arthritis, visit the Arthritis & Agriculture web site www.arthritis-ag.org or call 800-783-2342.