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OSU study: Farmers may develop arthritis earlier

Ohio State researchers have found that farmers are more likely to develop arthritis at a younger age than the general population.

“With the nature of farming, how strenuous it is, how physical it is, it’s not surprising that people would develop arthritis,” said Dr. Margaret Teaford, an associate professor in the occupational therapy division of OSU’s College of Medicine who is working on the study.

The study has found many farmers in their early 50s have already developed arthritis, while they would not have been expected to develop arthritis until their 60s.

The average age of a farmer in Ohio is 57, according to a Dec. 30 press release from the OSU Medical Center.

Teaford said it was surprising to see the number of farmers who had arthritis and needed joint replacements at a younger age.

“Just with talking to people at the screenings it became clear to us that people were having to replace hips and knees earlier than the population in general does and that made me realize that they were having more problems with arthritis,” Teaford said.

Farmers getting joint replacements earlier is both positive and negative, Teaford said.

“In the short term, I think that is good news that (joint replacements have) kept people active and farming longer,” Teaford said. “My concern is this is expensive to do and that these joints right now we figure will last people about 20 years, and if you are in your 50s and you get a joint replaced, that means in your 70s you might need to get that replacement replaced and that is a concern to me. That’s a much more difficult operation.”

Roger Wise, the president of the Ohio Farmers Union, was grateful for the work the study is doing.

“Farming is very physically demanding and because arthritis is so widespread among farmers it is important information … that helps lessen the impact of this condition,” Wise said.

Although the study looked at farmers specifically, Teaford said people in any profession with a lot of physical activity that do not protect their joints could be at risk for developing arthritis.

For farmers or people who do a lot of physical work, there are a number of things to limit their chances of getting arthritis at an early age.

“Using good body mechanics, protecting your joints, this sounds counterintuitive, but getting some targeted exercise that builds up your appropriate muscles so you can really protect those joints, warming up before you do the physical activity and using hot and cold treatments when you do have pain would all be very helpful,” Teaford said.

The study was given a one-year grant and will run through the end of June. However, that does not mean the research will end there.

“We are in the process of training extension educators all around the state to carry out these kinds of screenings,” Teaford said. “We expect over the next year-and-a-half or so that it will become part of the kind of things that extension educators do.”


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