Posted by: Patricia Hysong | January 27, 2012

Osteoarthritis in Agricultural Workers

Arthritis is a joint disorder characterized by inflammation of one or more joints. There are 100+ different types of arthritis, the most common being osteoarthritis. This form of degenerative joint disease can be caused by joint trauma or infection and erosion of the joint caused by the normal wear and tear that happens as we age. Osteoarthritis affects large and small joints in the body from hands and feet to hips, knees, and the back. Deterioration of the body’s natural cushion, called cartilage, in the joint causes the bones to then rub against each other. At first, the pain is minor but as the joint begins to break down because of the continuous rubbing action, it can become unbearable. The constant pain can prevent us from preforming regular activities and in doing so cause other health problems such as weight gain and muscle loss that are the result of a less active lifestyle.

Many agricultural workers are more likely to develop arthritis because of the inherent risks and the type of movements involved in such a lifestyle. Injuries suffered as the result of slips and falls, being kicked by animals, excessive vibration or pressure on our joints as a part of daily ranch\farm tasks and repetitive motion tasks are primary causes of osteoarthritis. As the condition worsens other injuries are likely to occur because of the lack of mobility that the individual experiences as the disease progresses. Being able to move quickly enough to get out of the way of an errant cow, walking through a muddy pasture, or having the strength to support one’s self when climbing into farm equipment become more difficult as arthritis develops and our pain increases. 

There are preemptive things that can be done to diminish the possibility of developing osteoarthritis. Avoid situations that can cause pressure on or jarring of joints such as jumping motions. Keep physically fit by doing a variety of activities using the entire body, not just the same thing over and over and maintaining a healthy weight and a balanced diet are a few things that can help to lower the chances of osteoarthritis. Other things include using ergonomically designed tools, decreasing vibration by increasing padding on equipment seats and limiting or finding a different way to do repetitive tasks. Along with making changes in our ways of doing things, there are industry practices that can be changed to help prevent the onset of the disease in farmers and ranchers.  Decreasing the weight of seed\feed bags to 50 pounds, installing extra steps and hand rails on equipment and designing more tools that function to relieve joint stress are a couple of changes that can be made to help workers maintain good joint health.

Preventing future generations from suffering the effects of osteoarthritis 100% of the time is impossible. There is also no cure for those currently suffering from it but there are ways to decrease the possibility of developing it and there are ways to prevent the condition from worsening. For the young workers being hired or those taking over family farms and ranches that have seen the effects in those they work with, watching and learning from the previous generations can help them understand the importance of finding new ways to do certain tasks so they do not suffer the same arthritic pain.

This information is provided courtesy of the Wyoming AgrAbility Project. For more information, visit our website or call toll-free at 866-395-4986.

 This information is adapted from the National AgrAbility Project Preventing Early Onset Osteoarthritis in Farm and Farm World.


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