Arthritis tends to affect most farmers in their hands, knees, and hips because these are the joints that take the most pressure. Seven strategies minimize pressure on these points, reducing pain and stiffness.
- Maintain a healthy weight. The Arthritis Foundation suggests that every 10 pounds lost relieves 40 pounds of pressure on the knees.
- Look for ways to simplify body movements.
- Adding a drop-down step with non-slip material and attaching an extra handle to farm machinery.
- Installing suspension seats or seat cushions with lumbar support and adjustable armrests in tractors will absorb shock, protecting joints.
- Adding mirrors inside and outside of the tractor cab decreases twisting.
- Using a wheelbarrow or utility vehicle to move heavy objects minimizes pressure on the knees and back.
- Adding padding to gears and handles. Building up tractor knobs, levers, small tools, or handles with foam and duct tape can make them easier to grasp, especially if hand strength is limited. Adding an extender to a handle can also change the leverage and make it easier to use.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle—which includes a healthy diet.
- Don't smoke. Research by the Arthritis Foundation has found a correlation between smoking and arthritis.
- Utilize treatments. Many of the traditional treatment methods for arthritis can improve mobility. Hot and cold packs on the affected joints, anti-inflammatory medication, or wearing a brace that helps prevent inflammation around joints are helpful treatments.
- Consult an occupational therapist. Consider visiting with an occupational therapist to learn more about ways to protect the joints.
A Purposeful Exercise Program
Have a purposeful exercise plan. Farmers do get exercise in the physical work they do every day, but a "purposeful" exercise plan includes stretching and warming up, strength and endurance exercises, and low-impact weight bearing activity that can benefit the joints—such as walking or swimming. A purposeful exercise will protect, strengthen, or maintain function in joints. Exercises should include:
- Range of motion exercises to extend joints through their limits of movement. These help maintain normal joint movement, relieve stiffness, and restore flexibility that's been lost.
- Strengthening exercises to help retain or increase muscle tone. Strong muscles help keep joints stable and more comfortable.
- Fitness or endurance exercises to make heart and lungs stronger, give you more stamina, help you sleep better, keep weight under control, and help lift your spirits. Walking, bicycling, and swimming are examples of these types of exercises.
Farming With Arthritis
It can be a struggle to farm with arthritis. Some tasks can be modified to ease the difficulty by requiring less energy or cause less stress on the joints. Options include using a different tool or piece of equipment for specific tasks, planning ahead to increase the efficiency of processes, or having a family member or employee perform the tasks that are difficult to perform. Other considerations include:
- Organize the day by ranking the day's tasks in order of importance.
- Whenever possible, sit while working to take the weight off the joints. In the barn or shop, keep a chair, stool, or bench nearby so you can rest from time to time. When in the field or the yard, sit on the bed of a truck or wagon to rest.
- Alternate difficult jobs with easier ones. For example, if replacing fence posts, plan to do that in the morning when you have the most strength and energy; then work on easier projects in the afternoon. Alternating heavy and light tasks will extend your energy over a longer period.
- Combine similar tasks. For example, if several items need to be repaired, try to do all the repairs in the same block of time.
- Complete all the work in one area before moving to another. For instance, finish all the barn chores before beginning chores in another area.
Techniques to create an accessible, comfortable work place include:
- Use as many labor-saving devices and easy-to-grip tools as possible.
- Install switches and electrical outlets so they are easy to reach.
- Arrange tools so they are easy to reach and store.
- Gather needed supplies and materials before you start working.
- Transport items by a cart rather than carrying them.
- Raise or lower the worktable or bench to reduce the need to bend or reach.
Using built-up handles on tools can be beneficial for individuals with decreased grip strength, hand pain, or numbness while gripping objects. Inexpensive ways to build up handles include:
- Wrap a washcloth around the handle and secure it with tape.
- Wrap a self-adhesive ACE bandage around the handle for desired thickness.
- Wrap craft foam or foam pipe insulation around the handle and secure it with tape.
- Wrap pieces of rubber hose around the handle and secure them with tape.
This fact sheet was reviewed by Karen Mancl, PhD, Professor, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University; and Pat Luchkowsky, Director of Public Affairs, Easter Seals of Ohio.
Douglas, J. (2004). Publication Offers Advice for Farmers Dealing with Arthritis. Purdue University.
Thomas, M. (2018). Arthritis in Agriculture. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Texas AgrAbility.
About AgrAbility Based Fact Sheets
These fact sheets were developed to promote success in agriculture for Ohio's farmers and farm families coping with a disability or long-term health condition. AgrAbility offers information and referral materials such as this fact sheet, along with on-site assessment, technical assistance, and awareness in preventing secondary injuries. Fact sheets were developed with funding from NIFA, project number OHON0006.