You’ve heard it before: No pain, no gain. For farmers living with arthritis, the cliché often becomes a way of life. But it doesn’t have to be.
Many farmers with arthritis perform physically demanding work daily, despite debilitating aches and pains. The doctors who treat such farmers now have a new resource to help them to better understand their patients’ lifestyle and provide more comprehensive treatment.
“Farming with Arthritis,” a DVD produced by MU researchers at the Missouri Arthritis Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, offers tips for making life easier and less painful for farmers with arthritis.
The DVD, which is being distributed to all U.S. rheumatology fellowship programs, regional arthritis centers, MU extension offices and physical and occupational therapy schools, shows farmers engaged in planting crops, moving equipment and other physically demanding chores. It includes tips on adapting older farm equipment and informs physicians about ways to treat farmers who often live far from medical facilities and can’t afford to take a day off from daily chores.
“Some physicians need a better understanding of what is available, beyond medication, to assist with arthritis,” said Marilyn Sanford Hargrove, MU physical therapy professor and co-developer of the DVD project, in an MU News Bureau news release. “People with a chronic condition often benefit from a team approach, rather than being managed solely by a physician.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site, arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States. More than 40 million Americans have one of the more than 100 types of arthritis, and the research center estimates that one-third of Missourians live with the potentially debilitating condition.
The most common type of arthritis — affecting more than 20 million Americans — is osteoarthritis, which causes a breakdown of cartilage between joints resulting in pain, swelling and loss of motion.
Karen Funkenbusch is a rural safety and health specialist for the Missouri AgrAbility Project, a program funded by the USDA that assists disabled agricultural workers. She was part of the team that wrote the script and helped coordinate filming for the DVD.
Funkenbusch said that farmers are especially vulnerable to osteoarthritis-related disabilities because of the physically demanding nature of their work, long hours and because many continue to farm well beyond retirement age.
According to the USDA’s 2002 National Agriculture Statistic Service Census of Agriculture, the average age of primary farm operators is 56, with 24 percent being between the ages of 55 and 64. And 17 percent of primary operators are over the age of 70, according to the census.
“Farmers are a unique population and need to understand that the aches and pains don’t necessarily have to be there,” Funkenbusch said. “There are tips and techniques that can help them continue to be involved in agriculture for a longer period of time. Arthritis — especially osteoarthritis — doesn’t have to be part of the aging process.”
Response to the DVD from the healthcare community has been great, Funkenbusch said.
“We’ve received calls from across the country seeking more information and asking if we can come and do panel discussions,” she said, adding that the DVD isn’t just for physicians. “Anyone who works in health care or physical therapy — as well as the farmers themselves — can all benefit from the information.”
Hargrove stressed the importance of early intervention and education in treating arthritis. “The earlier farmers learn to manage their conditions, the better off they are,” she said. “Every farmer could benefit from a discussion about what to do differently on a farm to make the work easier on their bodies.”