Back Health in Agriculture

What kind of back problems impact farmers and ranchers?

There are a variety of problems that affect farmers and ranchers from muscle and tendon problems to nerve compression and spinal problems. Of course, anyone with back problems should have a consultation with their doctor for a proper diagnosis.

What are the typical causes of back problems?

Farming includes a day of moving, but many days are spent doing the same activities like lifting, pushing or pulling heavy loads. These days also include a lot of bending and working in awkward positions that put an incredible amount of stress on a back. Now, doing those activities day after day strains the back more.

How can you prevent or reduce back problems?

  • Proper posture and body mechanics:
    • Standing for long periods of time, like most farmers do every day, can take a toll on the body making it essential to use proper posture. Keeping your back straight throughout the most part of your day will help to relieve the stress on your back.
    • When lifting, you should bend at your knees while trying to keep your back as straight as you can. Remembering the phrase “lift with your legs, not your back” every time you picking anything up can be a helpful reminder. If necessary, do not be afraid to ask for someone’s help.
  • Use equipment to assist
    • Equipment when handling livestock can help to alleviate the stress on your back because you are not directly in contact with the animal’s pulling or pushing.
    • Many machines have the option of replacing the seat with one that has more spinal support while reducing the vibrations of the machine.

What are the traditional treatments for back problems?

Working with back pain is difficult, but there are many ways that are used to treat these problems. The first thing to do is to make sure that your back is healthy for the activities you are doing.

Tips:

  • Heat/cold therapy: Using ice packs can help with back strains and reduce any inflammation that may have occurred because of it. Heat pads can increase blood flow and aid in relaxing muscles.
  • Stretching and exercise: Stretching the muscles can help to alleviate some of the pain of your back and joints. Exercising can improve muscle tone and reduce the pressure on your back.
  • Medication: Consulting with a doctor about how to treat the pain in your back with medication is an option, but self-medicating is not advised.

For more information about back health and what you can do, check out the National AgrAbility’s publication, Back on the Farm, Back in the Saddle (PDF).