According to early findings by Ohio State University researchers, arthritis is affecting farmers at younger ages than initially predicted. Hoping to slow those numbers down, researchers at Ohio State University Medical Center are reaching out to those at higher risk - farmers old and young - to see if proactive measures can help.
“We are talking about prevention with farmers, and then we’re also talking about management, because there are a number of things one can do to help manage arthritis,” said Margaret Teaford, an associate professor in the occupational therapy division of Ohio State’s College of Medicine.
Teaford and her students recently partnered with OSU Extension educators to screen farmers at several Ohio county fairs and community gatherings. The ongoing screenings identify farmers at risk for arthritis and provide them with educational materials to help them better manage the disease.
Teaford and her team also provide lifestyle tips for farmers at risk for the disease, such as adding more steps and handles to equipment, stretching and exercising.
“We’re encouraging the farmers we talk with to add some extra handles on their equipment and put steps on their tractors so that they’re not jumping down, helping them avoid extra pressure on their knees,” Dr. Teaford says.
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.
The tips, materials and ideas provided to these farmers aren’t lost on those who’ve been doing it awhile, like Eric Dresbach of Circleville, Ohio, a third-generation farmer.
“If I just grab hold of something and think ‘I’m tough, I can move it,’ then my back’s talking to me and it reminds me that I’m not as young as I used to be,” Dresbach says.
But it’s not just those who are older who are at risk. In fact, half of all cases of arthritis are now in those under the age of 65** and increasingly involve younger patients overusing a particular hand joint, the carpometacarpal joint, either typing or texting.
“In 25 years, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see kids who are doing this constant triggering with their thumbs today develop thumb osteoarthritis prematurely,” says Kevin Hackshaw, MD of Ohio State University Medical Center.
By 2030 experts predict 67 million Americans will have arthritis,* even more if younger people develop it from overuse of their hands from too much typing or texting.
To prevent problems later in life doctors recommend stretching, exercise and drinking plenty of water. As for typing and texting, they suggest using proper alignment and techniques and taking breaks often to let joints rest.
For now doctors are working with those they know who are at higher risk, but with an eye to the future, they’re hoping some of the proactive programs they develop on the farm, could help cultivate healthier habits in others.
*Prevalence of Arthritis is on the Rise, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 2010 from: http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/resources/spotlights/prevelance.htm
**Arthritis Facts, Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved December 2010 from: http://www.arthritis.org/facts.php
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