Sitting for long periods of time, then suddenly jumping off the equipment to lift something heavy or engage in a rough, repetitive task is a recipe for an injury.
And those are so often the workplace ingredients and circumstances farmers cite when they come through the doors of the West Fit Physiotherapy and Sports Clinic in Brandon with some kind of musculoskeletal disorder.
Staff there see all sorts of painful injuries to weight-bearing joints and backs among farmers, which have resulted from heavy lifting in improper positions, or sudden bending, kneeling or twisting, often by bodies that are fatigued, physiotherapist Karrah Nelissen told an Ag Days audience last month.
“Farming is a very physical occupation,” she said. “And these kinds of injuries are more common than you know.”
What can help prevent them? Correct posture is important. Learning proper lifting techniques is key. And so is developing a daily habit of incorporating a few stretching exercises into a work routine, she said.
Many farmers lift from awkward positions, often because they’re in tight or confined spaces, she said. But using the leg muscles to lift, keeping loads close to the body, and legs shoulder-width apart for a stable base all help prevent lifting-related injuries, including the all-too-frequent disc injuries therapists see.
Improving posture and reducing slouching meanwhile can reduce the soreness workers feel in their necks, shoulders and upper backs, especially after long periods in one position.
“It’s going to make a huge difference with muscle tension and you’ll feel less aches and pains,” she said.
Being warmed up, through a series of stretches, for a physically demanding job is key to warding off strains, sprains and other injuries.
She put her Ag Days audience through several types of gentle stretches for the neck, back and demonstrated easy circular motions for wrists and ankles. The exercises were all done seated, proving they can be easily done while in the cab.
It’s simple and easy to incorporate warm-up exercises into your daily work routine, Nelissen said.
“It’s no more than 15 minutes of your time,” she said.
Sprains and strains have been found to be Canada’s leading type of farm-related injuries, with overexertion the leading cause of these injuries, ahead of livestock handling and machine-related work.
Overexertion causes 84 per cent of all strains and sprains injuries sustained in agricultural work, according to one study by the former Canadian Agricultural Injury Surveillance Program.
Statistics Canada has reported that approximately 15 per cent of agricultural-related injuries are back injuries.
National safety week campaigns in years passed have focused on encouraging farmers to think through their work and work habits to find ways to reduce the risk of sprains, strains and falls.
SAFE LIFTING TECHNIQUE
- Get in close to the object you are lifting.
- Keep your head and shoulders up and your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend at the hip joints, and keep that slight inward curve in your lower back.
- Try to keep the shoulders over the knees and the knees over the toes.
- Step and turn with the feet, not the back.
- Don’t hold your breath while lifting.
Kneeling Without Padding
The Farm Safety Association has an online guide with illustrations for stretching exercises that help reduce fatigue and prevent injury among farm workers.