“As we screened farmers, many of those in their young 50s already had a serious arthritic condition,” said Margaret Teaford, an associate professor in the occupational therapy division of Ohio State’s College of Medicine. “Some farmers told us that by the time they reached age 50 they already knew they would need a joint replacement due to their arthritis. We were very surprised and concerned with what we were seeing,” added Teaford.
Based on national data, Teaford expected any instances of disabling arthritis in farmers to begin showing up sometime in their 60s. With the average age of farmers in Ohio at 57 years old, Teaford said many farmers will contend with arthritis for most of their working years, which could impact their economic livelihoods.
Teaford and her students partnered with OSU Extension educators to screen farmers at several Ohio county fairs and community gatherings, using a screening tool developed by Sharon Flinn, assistant professor in Ohio State’s School of Allied Medical Professions, and her students.
The screenings, which are ongoing, identify farmers at risk for arthritis and provide them with educational materials to help them better manage the disease.
To date, faculty members and students have screened nearly 400 farmers and have additional screenings scheduled in 2011. The researchers also will re-contact more than 250 farmers deemed to be at higher risk to determine if they are making lifestyle changes based on the educational materials they were provided.
“We want to receive feedback from them about the materials and resources we provided,” added Teaford. “Ultimately, we want there to be standard and effective resources that can help make farmers aware of their risk for arthritis and enable them to prevent the disease or manage the condition appropriately.”
Researchers offer several tips and suggestions for farmers to help prevent or manage arthritis. “I know it may sound a little counter intuitive, but exercising and stretching can help warm up muscles and decrease the risk of injury,” said Teaford. “Farmers also can adapt their equipment by adding extra handles and steps at key points on tractors and other implements to eliminate jumping to the ground and unnecessary impact on the knees. If you protect your joints, you can really go a long way in managing the disease,” she added.
The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, is caused by trauma or recurring harsh impact to a joint, which results in painful inflammation.
Farmers are prone to arthritis, due to the repetitive nature of their work and the manual labor they perform without rest breaks. The symptoms of arthritis are often not adequately addressed at early stages in the farming community, and in some underserved rural areas without physicians and other healthcare professionals, the condition may go undiagnosed and untreated for long periods.
The study is funded by grants from OSUCares and the Linda Cummins Simpson Research Endowment.
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