Growing Together: Physiotherapy & Farming



Spotlight by rays of the summer sun with colorful seeds flourishing and stalks swaying, farming is frequently painted with these picturesque strokes. Strokes of careless ease and bountiful grace. However, farming is indeed a difficult and arduous profession for many across our region. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are the leading cause of disability across all industries, and farmers are at particular risk. Musculoskeletal disorders are injuries and disorders that affect the human body’s movement system (examples include muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, connective tissue). There are four big risk factors in the development of these disorders.

These risk factors include: heavy loads, high repetitions, awkward postures, and environmental conditions (cold temperatures and whole body vibrations). Whether it be lengthy time spent in awkward positions fixing an implement or riding for hours on a bouncing tractor during harvest - these risk factors define the life for a farmer. Many have adopted a “grin and bear it” attitude often accepting regular, even chronic pain, as part of the job description. But living with daily pain from farming is unnecessary. It creates an opportunity for injuries both temporary and permanent, something costly both to the farmer personally and to the farming community. Different symptoms are part of our bodies’ warning systems to slow down or stop altogether and address an issue. When we understand them and heed them, they are as useful as a GPS alarm sounding at the end of the field. Bodily signs such as stiffness, soreness, or muscle fatigue can serve as a gauge to pause, slow down, and proceed with caution - like a yellow light. Repetitive motions and new activities (or the first time engaging in an activity during that farming season) can lead to these symptoms. While most times they are “tolerable”, ignoring them can lead to increased discomfort for days thereafter and prolonged recovery time. When symptoms are described as sharp, stabbing, burning, throbbing or searing - they are like a red light - stop. While most will naturally cease at this point... There are some with high thresholds for pain, high levels of stubbornness, and some who just feel they have to get a job done. This is precisely the moment to remember that the body is both the most valuable and most irreplaceable tool. Sticking it out for that last hour of the day may actually be doing additional damage to the tissue. Furthermore, being distracted by a searing pain means not fully focusing on the machinery in operation, increasing the risk of accident or a costly mistake.

So as a farmer, when the combine’s monitors are indicating a system failure what does one do? In all likelihood, the farmer calls their local equipment technician and asks for help. Your local physiotherapist is our body’s help line. Physiotherapists are specialists in treating musculoskeletal injuries and occupational injuries, and regularly treat patients working in the agricultural sector. So let your local physiotherapist assist you with making this harvest a successful one.