A John Deere Publication
Person with red hooded sweater and jeans on walking with a metal pail in each hand with trees in the background

Farm work seems to be almost tailor-made to induce musculoskeletal injuries.

Agriculture, Education   February 01, 2024

Change it Up


Movement reduces your aches & pains.

Staying as active and physically fit as possible pays big dividends when it comes to limiting the aches and pains that commonly accompany aging. Terry Doran of Bow Island, Alberta, started taking his physical fitness seriously in 2002. He enrolled in a local exercise class and kept at it.

"I'm 79 now and just retired from farming," Doran says. "I'm still going to my exercise class. I wouldn't have been able to keep going without it."

Farming is hard on the body. According to Dr. Angelica Lang, an Assistant Professor at the Canadian Centre for Rural and Agricultural Health at University of Saskatchewan, farmers are highly prone to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Some research suggests up to 91% of farmers worldwide will experience an MSD injury in their lifetime.

"There are seven main risk factors for developing an MSD: repetitive motion, forceful exertions, vibration, mechanical compression, sustained and awkward postures, limitations on motion, or other stresses, such as workplace stress or speed demands," Lang says. "You don't need to think too hard to find examples of farm work that fit into any of these categories. Combining alone exposes a farmer to vibration, duration in sustained and awkward positions. All of these are very connected to low back and neck injuries."

Above. Dr. Angelica Lang says it's relatively simple to dramatically reduce the impact of farm work on musculoskeletal health. Just taking a short three-to-five-minute break every few hours makes a big difference.


It's easy to dramatically reduce the impact of farm work on musculoskeletal health. Lang says vibration research at the University of Saskatchewan shows that just taking a short, three-to-five-minute break every few hours will make a big difference.

"Something as simple as getting out of the operator's chair and walking around checking your equipment would be enough," Lang says. "In another example, if you're doing repairs that require you to work with your arms over your head, just lower your arms for a minute now and then to give those muscles a break."

When it comes to farm work, the adage, a change is as good as a rest, is literally true. Farmers though are very driven to get things done, and are hesitant to take any breaks even if it's for their long-term health.

That's why the sort of activities that Lang proposes don't require you to climb out of the cab and stomp around and do stretches for 10 minutes. They just require you to change your position and what you are doing for a few minutes. She acknowledges that farmers will need to make a purposeful decision to do these when they first start doing them, but these can easily be worked into your daily work routines without having an impact on operations.

But as Doran discovered, staying as fit and active as possible is a proven way to reduce the odds of developing an MSD. Lang says this doesn't have to be as complicated as everyone tends to make it. Golf, curling, swimming, and so on are good for both overall and musculoskeletal health.

"For work-related injuries, prevention and treatment approaches are quite similar," Lang says. "Stay fit, stay active, and be conscientious about taking regular breaks. Make good movement choices while you are working. If you are lifting or moving something, keep it close to your body so your arms aren't so extended. Get a stepladder when working overhead and your arms aren't raised up, and to avoid working in awkward positions."

If you already have an injury, avoid activities that will make it worse, but don't sit around doing nothing either, Lang says. Otherwise your joints and muscles will start to atrophy and you can lose range of motion. It's very much a case of use it or lose it. Again, your movements don't need to be very complicated. Simple range of motion exercises without resistance are often the best things you can do for it. ‡

Read More

Closeup of blades of grass



The right teammates can make the difference between wins and losses on the farm.

Person facing away with white baseball cap and blue tshirt with hands resting on their head and John Deere equipment in the background


Anger Management

Finding ways to maintain your inner peace.