When your aches and pains tell you more about the weather than last
night’s news you’re probably dealing with arthritis. You’re not alone –
arthritis affects four million Canadian adults and it’s in the top
three most common chronic diseases in Canada alongside food allergies
and back pain. That’s one in every six people over the age of 15
dealing with the disease; three of every five of these are under age 65.
When your aches and pains tell you more about the weather than last night’s news you’re probably dealing with arthritis. You’re not alone – arthritis affects four million Canadian adults and it’s in the top three most common chronic diseases in Canada alongside food allergies and back pain. That’s one in every six people over the age of 15 dealing with the disease; three of every five of these are under age 65.
Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in Canada today. For many people the disease means that they are not able to perform simple everyday tasks like opening a door or even holding a fork. As a farmer you perform repetitive tasks, lift heavy and awkward loads, and expect yourself to perform intensively during times like planting and harvest that may cause and compound the pain of arthritis.
There is no cure but there are ways to help manage arthritis and reduce the pain if you can use all of the tools available to you including machinery modifications, exercise, therapy, medications or even surgery.
Arthritis is typically defined as joint inflammation that causes pain and immobility. It usually shows up in the hands, neck, back and especially the knees. There are over 100 different forms of the disease including some that can affect the skin and internal organs.
One of the most common forms is osteoarthritis, which is where the cartilage at the end of the bones wears away. It comes with age from injury, overuse, and performing repeated tasks like lifting bales or milking. Rheumatoid arthritis is systemic and may eventually lead to deformities if left untreated. Temporary conditions from periodic overuse such as tendonitis and bursitis are also forms of arthritis, as well as gout, lupus, fibromyalgia and osteoporosis.
The first step you need to take if you think you’re dealing with arthritis is to make a visit to your doctor for proper diagnosis and to find out your treatment options.
The next step is to protect your joints as you work around the farm. According to a video called Gaining Ground on Arthritis released by Purdue University Extension Service, there are specific ways that farmers can manage the disease and reduce its effects.
They suggest several ways to protect your joints. A good shock-absorbing tractor seat with arm rests and back support will help, and so will good posture and frequently shifting your position. If you can increase the diameter of the control levers it will make them easier to handle, and installing a rear view mirror wouldn’t hurt so you don’t have to keep twisting to look over your shoulder. When you climb down from the tractor, don’t jump.
There are tools you can use such as portable steps, power tools, or modified tools with easy to grasp handles that can make life easier. Organize your workshop with a good stool and tools within reach so that you don’t have to run around after them, and stand on an anti-fatigue mat if you’re working at one station for any period of time.
Even replacing a doorknob with a lever can make life easier when it’s your hands that hurt. An occupational therapist can make suggestions to reduce stress for your own personal needs.
One consideration that is often overlooked is the effect of emotional stress that can make arthritis more painful and difficult to manage. Something as simple as a lack of rest or sleep can aggravate the condition. And although it may seem like hanging out at the coffee shop isn’t productive, sharing your problems and concerns with like minds is essential to reducing stress.
Keeping your weight under control will put less strain on your body, while using good footwear will provide support and absorb shock.
Looking after yourself includes getting proper forms of exercise too. You’re probably getting plenty of exercise but it may not be the right kind: your doctor may be able to recommend certain regimes that will increase your range of motion or strength.
As for those time worn family remedies – the special teas and copper bracelets – they are mostly unproven and they may or may not work. The problem with them is that your arthritis may be getting worse while it could be getting better under your doctor’s care.
The Arthritis Society of Canada offers Arthritis Self-Management Programs at locations across the province. For more information visit www.arthritis.ca or call 1-800-321-1433. To order the video call 1-888-398-4636 or visit www.ces.purdue.edu
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