Farmers are a group of people that often present to my clinic with lower back pain. Their job involves a huge variation in the physical tasks they do. This ranges from repeated and heavy lifting, bending, prolonged sitting on a tractor twisting repeatedly in the seat, and activities like driving a quad bike or a horse (with the occasional fall).
Often farmers will come in with chronic lower back pain. Often, it’s pain that has been on and off for a number of years but mostly fixes itself after a few days. Then comes the time that it doesn’t get better – and that’s when they usually seek help.
Repeated lifting, heavy lifting, prolonged sitting or twisting create the perfect mix for predisposing factors that are most likely to cause disc lower back problems. Typically, farmers often don’t look after themselves with regular stretching; nor do they see a doctor or physio early enough to sort out the problem before it gets worse.
However, back care for a farmer – or anyone really – is absolutely critical. A healthy back is key to functioning well so you can keep doing what you want and need to do. Back pain can be debilitating and stop you from doing what needs to be done. But it is also is preventable and manageable.
Below are just a few strategies that have shown to help reduce lower back pain and can be particularly useful for farmers:
- Use the correct lifting technique:
Bending from the hips and knees rather than the lower back is critical in protecting the discs, joints and the soft tissue around the lower back (lumbar spine). The muscles in the legs are designed to take larger loads while the lower back muscles which are much smaller are not. So, try to bend from the hips and knees.
- Plan the lift:
A small amount of time spent planning (even 10 seconds) can help reduce the chance of injury – getting the load closer to the body or removing objects in the path of the lift can be part of that planning.
- Keep your core strong:
A strong group of core muscles combined with correct bracing will help protect the lower back with repeated lifting or when lifting heavy objects. Brace the abdomen and engage the pelvic floor muscles before you lift a heavy object.
- Correct sitting position:
Sit upright on the tractor or quad bike – try not to slump. Invest in a supportive seat that helps to keep the lower back supported.
- Stretch key muscle groups including:
- Hamstring – this is the muscle group at the back of each thigh and will get very tight and short with long periods of sitting on a tractor, driving, office chair or horse
- Hip adductors – these are the muscles on the inside of the thigh and will become very tight with horse riding, or long periods of sitting.
These strategies alongside a few simple daily stretches will help.
Here are a few you can try:
- Hamstring stretches:
- Place the foot of your affected leg onto a chair or step.
- Keep your knee straight and foot pointing ahead.
- Keeping your back straight, tip forwards from your hips, pushing your buttocks out behind you until you feel a stretch down the back of your thigh.
- Hold this position.
- Piriformis stretches seated:
- Start in a seated position.
- Cross the symptomatic leg your ankle is resting on, to the opposite knee.
- Apply gentle pressure to the knee as you lean forward, increasing the depth of the stretch.
- Hold this position, you should feel a comfortable tension with no pain.
- Back extensions
- Stand with your legs at hip width apart and straight.
- Place your hands on your hips.
- Lean your body backwards, trying to arch in the lower back as much as you can, lifting your chest up towards the ceiling.
- Try to avoid allowing your hips to swing forwards too far.
- Hold this position before returning to the start position.
Many of our farmers are doing it tough at the moment with so little rain for their crops, paddocks and stock. Regardless, their work still goes on so please share this post to a farmer you know.