Arthritis presents problem for aging population of farmers

May 2, 2013

Arthritis affects approximately one-third of all adult farm operators and is considered one of the leading causes of disability by customers of the U.S. Department of Agriculture AgrAbility Project. With the average age of the American farmer now above 57, increasingly more farmers will find their tasks difficult to complete.

Arthritis is an umbrella term for more than 100 diseases that can affect the joints and surrounding tissue. Common forms of arthritis include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, gout and fibromyalgia.

Arthritis is considered one of the most disabling conditions a farmer can face and is the leading cause of disability of farmers in the Mid-Atlantic area. Symptoms can include persistent pain; stiffness, swelling, redness or heat in the joint; difficulty in moving the joint; and possible fatigue, weight loss and nausea.

According to medical professionals, there are benefits of exercise for farmers with arthritis. Exercise can help manage arthritis pain and reduce the disability as well as increase energy levels, help with sleep, and decrease depression and fatigue. Exercise is also considered very important for healthy joints. Moving joints helps keeps them fully mobile and strengthens the surrounding muscles which help support the joints.

Since there is no known cure for arthritis, education and awareness of pain management techniques are considered the best practice for treating the disease. This includes but is not limited to joint protection, work simplification and stress reduction.

A few solutions that can be implemented to help control joint stress and pain in farming include the following:

Wear quality, non-slip footwear.

Use appropriate assistive aids such as automatic couplers, mobility devices, hydraulic lift tables, shop hoists, powered cordless caulk guns and more.

Adhere to proper posture when sitting for long periods of time in tractors.

Use large muscle groups to complete a task. For example, use the legs instead of the back to lift.

Avoid gripping and grasping for long periods of time.

Simplify jobs and tasks.

For more information on arthritis, visit Mid-Atlantic AgrAbility at or visit the Arthritis Foundation at Call Mid-Atlantic AgrAbility toll free at 1-877-204-FARM (3276) for a DVD, "Gaining Ground on Arthritis in the Agricultural Workplace" and a brochure, Arthritis and Agriculture.

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