Watch your back: Expert tips for farmers to avoid pain and injuries when using machines

It is one of the farmer’s most basic tools; the tractor. However, if you spend long hours in the tractor seat, every effort must be made to ensure that you are sitting comfortably to avoid pain and repeated stress injuries.

Ask any farmer how he or she is doing, and complaints of back pain are always at the top of their list of complaints, especially at this time of year with long stays in the tractor cab.

While there are many causes of back pain, all of the rocks, bumps, furrows, and ditches the farmer drives through can take a physical toll.

Farming is a physically demanding occupation with many of the daily tasks that can be harmful to your back muscles. Tasks like pitching and lifting heavy weights are known to be difficult for this part of the body.

Recent evidence-based research has found a high prevalence of musculoskeletal injuries among Irish farmers. A survey of 600 Irish farmers – 100 farmers from each of Ireland’s six main farming systems – found that 56 percent of farmers had suffered a musculoskeletal injury.

The most common types of injury or disorder involved the back (37 percent). Risk factors include heavy loads, awkward postures, repetitive activities, and poor access to the work area in which the work is being carried out.

Long days in the tractor with constant machine vibrations can put more strain on the muscles. This in combination with repeated activities with poor posture can lead to pain.

According to occupational therapist Catherine Durcan, there are some rules of thumb farmers can use to help them spend long periods of time behind the wheel of the tractor.

Durcan, the daughter of a Co Mayo rancher, says taking regular breaks while getting out of the tractor can help. She recommends taking a standing break every half an hour. This gets the blood flowing again and while it’s always best to get out of the tractor, getting up and standing will help.

Durcan says Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) is a common complaint when seats are improperly adjusted. Nerve damage can also result from the constant vibrations in a tractor when the suspension is poor or ergonomics are poor in old cabs.

It’s important to be aware of your posture while sitting, adds Durcan. She asks the questions, ‘Are your feet flat on the floor?’ and ‘Do you have any gaps between your thigh and your seat?

Farmers need to know this before starting a long day in the cab. She advises farmers to sit back in their seat and find a higher back on the tractor seat for comfort.

“One of the first things the farmer needs to be aware of is their size on the seat. It is a good idea to measure the widest part of yourself while sitting and then try to get a seat that is at least 75 percent of that matters, ”she says.

It is also important that the backrest of the tractor seat offers sufficient support. “The back of your seat should support the back of your buttocks and lower back – it should support your back as much as possible – and your seat should also support your thighs to the back of your knees.

“It would be nice if you could have armrests. Farmers revolve around the functionality of the tractor and they should look for adjustments to the seat so it can go up and down, forwards and backwards. ”Durcan suggests that the farmer should be able to reach the steering wheel without to come forward when leaning back in the seat. “You should be able to turn as far as necessary without detaching from the backrest.”