There’s a word for the chronic back and joint pain farmers experience after years of putting immense stress on their bodies. It’s muscular skeletal pain. Unlike a traumatic injury, it’s onset isn’t immediate. It sets in slowly. There’s also a word for the study of these kinds of issues and people’s effectiveness in the workplace. It’s ergonomics, and Josie Rudolphi with the National Farm Medicine Center is an expert. She told Bobbi Jo some advice they have for farmers to keep going when work needs to be done and alleviate or prevent that pain.
Tools can be the first step to preventing back and joint pain. Years of hunching over will eventually lead to a curved spine. Tools that keep one’s posture upright for tasks like weeding reduce that pressure. Another tip is to change tasks every so often. Josie said while there is a lot of work to be done on a farm, the farmer often has some agency over which tasks are done when. Changing from one job, such as weeding, to another job, like washing vegetables, every half hour or so can spread out pressure put on different parts of the body.
Of course, many farmers are already experiencing chronic pain. They want remedies rather than prevention. Small changes like adjusting the level of a sink, taking shorter, more frequent breaks, and strengthening core muscles can make a difference. Josie acknowledged that it’s easy to tell people to get physical activity or eat healthier, but sometimes it’s not that easy.
However, she likes to remind people, “Farmers are so great at taking care of their livestock, of taking care of their land, managing nutrients, managing inputs. And one of the most important inputs we have is ourselves. Because the farm is not going to continue if you are not in your best shape or if you’re injured.”
She stressed that the extra time it takes to take care of yourself is less than the time that gets eaten up caring for an injury or illness. 80% of the population will experience non-specific low back pain, but the chances and severity, even after it has begun to set in, can be decreased with self-care.
The National Farm Medicine Center is a non-profit based in Marshfield, WI. Their mission is to assist farmers with their health and safety.