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Cornell University Organization Aids Farmers with Arthritis

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By Naomi Miner and Doreen Greenstein • • April 14, 2000

When a farm family member has arthritis that interferes with everyday tasks, call on FarmAbility. FarmAbility is a Cornell Cooperative Extension project that provides services to people with disabilities or chronic health conditions that limit their day-to-day activities. We work with men, women, and children who live or work on farms, or who are involved in other agricultural activities. Here's how one farmer manages to keep going despite his arthritis:

Sam is a dairy farmer with arthritis in both hands. He experiences stiffness in his wrist and finger joints and, at times, pain. Because arthritis is a disease of the joints, Sam needs to be careful how he uses his hands. When the joints are swollen and "out of line," pain can increase and permanent damage can occur. Because Sam has learned to take care of his hands, he can complete everyday activities on the farm.

When he wakes up in the morning, Sam's hands feel stiffer than they do after he has moved around for a while. So he starts his day by taking a warn shower. The warmth allows his hands to relax and takes some of the stiffness away. After his hands are warm, Sam completes gentle stretching exercises that he learned from his health care provider.

Sam has discovered that there is an important balance between exercise and fatigue. Every day he varies his work load and rest breaks depending on how he feels. Short rest breaks and gentle exercise can help reduce fatigue when he is working for a prolonged period on a repetitive task.
When Sam picks up anything, he is careful to make sure that his wrists are in proper alignment. Putting his joints into compromising positions can cause permanent damage. When Sam gets up from squatting, he is careful not to pull with his hands but uses his legs instead. If he must use his hands to assist in getting up, he is careful to use the heel of his palm and avoid excessive pressure on his thumb.

Sam has found it useful to build up the handles on smaller tools so that he does not have to use as tight a grasp to pick them up. Foam water pipe insulation can be slid over the handle and then wrapped with electrical tape or other plastic tape. If the tool handle is smaller than the diameter of the hole in the pipe insulation, the piece of insulation can be cut up one side of the cylinder. Then the foam can be wrapped around the handle, overlapping it to make a tight fit, and wrapped snugly with plastic tape. This method can be used to make the handles easier to grasp on silverware, buckets, screwdrivers, and other tools. It also adds a cushion between Sam's sensitive hands and the tools. Foam build-ups are also good for tools that are cold to the touch because cold often aggravates pain in arthritic joints.

If you are a farmer with arthritis or another disability, please contact FarmAbility for information and assistance to help you in your everyday farm and homemaking tasks. Our staff can come to your home or farm, assess the problems presented by the disability, and suggest adaptations that can make things easier. For example, we can help design home modifications such as ramps and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms. We can share information about special farm equipment such as lifts to get from wheelchair to tractor, and tools to use with one hand.

Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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