Farming presents the opportunity for a healthy outdoor occupation. However, it also presents risk from injury from hazardous work-related activities.
Farming is classed as a risky occupation across several research studies worldwide. It is estimated that over 50% of Irish farmers experience a musculoskeletal injury (bone, muscle, tendon, ligament) yearly.
Farm workplaces are highly diverse and expose farmers to different types of musculoskeletal injuries depending on the level of farming they engage in.
Bruises, sprains, strains, dislocations, fractures, open wounds, and amputations are just some of the common occupational injuries that occur among farmers. Long working hours have been linked to an increased rate of musculoskeletal injury, suggesting that fatigue may play a part.
Upper limb (arm and hand)
The upper limb is one of the most injured parts of the farmer’s body. Arm/hand injuries often result in loss of working days and can lead to permanent disability due to amputation or deformity.
The economic and emotional burden of such injuries can be significant considering 90% of all farm injuries in Ireland are suffered by a farm family member.
Fractures of the upper limb (shoulder, upper arm, forearm, wrist, and hand) are common among farmers. Livestock is a common cause of injury with cow related injuries causing the most farm-related hospitalisations in Ireland.
Open fractures, where the skin is broken, pose a significant problem on farmyards due to the risk of bacterial contamination.
Cow horn related lacerations are also common in both the upper and lower limb. Hygiene post skin injury is vital to prevent infection. Your GP can guide you on appropriate treatment post skin injury if hospitalisation is not required.
Research examining injuries in Irish farmers found that the lower limb (leg) is the most commonly injured site.
Trigger finger is a common non-treating complaint in farmers. It affects the tendons in the hand. As you bend or straighten your finger, it gets stuck or snaps. It is common among occupations that involve prolonged gripping.
It happens due to inflammation of the protective sheath that surrounds the tendon. This results in irritation that prevents normal gliding of the tendon. A tender lump may be present in the palm due to a buildup of scar tissue.
Anti-inflammatory medication may help reduce pain. Rest, stretching and occasionally a finger splint can be used to treat trigger finger. Steroid injections are also used to reduce inflammation, allowing the tendon to glide freely. Surgical release may be needed if finger movement is severely restricted.
Lower limb (hip and leg)
Research examining injuries in Irish farmers found that the lower limb (leg) is the most commonly injured site. Livestock and machinery were the main cause of injury to the leg.
Large animal-related injury was found to be common particularly during activities like feeding, milking, tagging, herding, slaughter and passing by. Fractures are also common in the lower limb (femur, tibia, ankle, foot) and are often caused by livestock or machinery.
It is vital that you rest, recover and rehabilitate following a fracture or injury. Your local chartered physiotherapist can guide you through a comprehensive, progressive exercise program to get you strong and ready for farming.
International research indicates that farmers may be at a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis of the hip compared to other jobs. Osteoarthritis involves the breakdown of joint cartilage and changes in the bone.
Farmers are exposed to lifting and moving heavy loads daily. It is thought that this repetitive exposure to heavy work may be why they are at a greater risk of developing hip osteoarthritis. Pain, aches, reduced movement, stiffness, and swelling are some of the symptoms of osteoarthritis.
The good news is that committing to a regular exercise program can help to reduce pain and improve physical performance. Losing weight can also help to unload your hip joints, resulting in reduced pain, and slowing down the progression of hip joint degeneration.