Don't let secondary injuries keep you on the sidelines

When a primary injury isn’t allowed to properly heal, additional injuries can lead to permanent damage.

When it rains, it pours. This old saying is especially true when it comes to injuries on the farm. Once an injury or illness occurs, things can go downhill quickly if adjustments aren’t made to daily activity.

Secondary injuries can occur when farmers participate in physically demanding activities while dealing with an existing injury, illness, or disability. 

“When one part of the body is injured, hurt, and in the healing process, we use other parts to compensate,” says Robert Grisso of Virginia Tech Extension. For example, a knee injury can lead to pain in the other knee, or an arm injury can lead to an aching back. Being slowed down by a heart condition or arthritis can lead to an accident if the farmer can’t get out of the way of livestock or machinery quickly enough. Any injury can lead to mental health issues including depression. 

“In many situations, secondary injuries may cause permanent damage because pre-existing conditions are worsened by additional injuries,” Grisso says. “In other situations, it may result in additional recovery time.”

Age is a Factor

According to Grisso, as the average age of farmers increases, so do the chances for secondary injuries. 

“Both age and existing disabilities or injuries may adversely affect reaction time, motor skills, and ability to balance,” Grisso says. “These limitations – along with the refusal to make adjustments and/or to recognize the previous injury or disability – make senior farmers and ranchers more vulnerable to secondary injuries, even though they are more experienced.”

Farmers and ranchers who use wheelchairs or have a prosthesis are also more susceptible to secondary injuries. The leading causes are handling livestock and falls, according to Grisso. Entanglement, overuse of the opposite limb, pressure sores and sprains are other common secondary injuries among this population.

Make a Plan

No matter how much pain one is in, though, the cattle still need fed. There are some chores that just can’t wait until injuries are fully healed. Finding a safe way to do them or making alternate plans can help prevent secondary injuries and stop that string of bad luck in its tracks.

“The best advice for injured farmers is to watch their daily routines and make sure they stay in limits of the doctor and physical therapy guidelines,” Grisso says.

He advises adult children to attend doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions with their parents. “Listen closely to the guidelines outlined by the doctor and watch the session and note the limits and extensions that therapist is doing,” he says. If it’s possible for these appointments to be held in the patient’s home, that makes it easier for everyone, and the physical therapist can offer suggestions specific to the home and farm.

Adult children and grandchildren can also help by making sure chores are covered and help is available for other things their injured parent might need. Talk about their daily routine and make a list of things that require temporary or longer term help, possibly including bathing and preparing meals. Be sure to also consider things the parent enjoys doing, and find ways to help them keep those things up, whether it’s driving them to the coop for coffee time or helping them make Sunday dinner.

Make Surroundings Safer

Telling a farmer or rancher that they can’t do their work probably won’t go well. Grisso says if they can’t or won’t avoid high-risk activities, there are some things that can be done to help prevent further injury:

  • Place rubberized, nonslip surfaces on high-traffic concrete floors.
  • Provide extra steps for getting into farm equipment and vehicles to avoid over-reaching or having to pull oneself up.
  • Make sure there is adequate lighting in all work areas and where getting into and out of machinery to avoid falls.
  • Reconfigure livestock handling facilities with added fence gates as needed to make things safer and more efficient.
  • Add handle wraps to tools to improve grip, use lightweight tools with long handles or pneumatic self-adjusting tools when possible, and arrange tools within reach.
  • Add extra mirrors to equipment to improve visibility and reduce neck and back strain.
  • Install seats with improved suspension systems to avoid back pain.
  • Use gel-filled knee pads for any work requiring kneeling.
  • Take advantage of quick-connect technology for hitching and unhitching implements without leaving the tractor seat.
  • If dealing with a permanent disability, modify tractor controls with spinner knobs, hand levers for brakes, and even relocation of controls if needed. A mechanical lift can also be used to allow access to the tractor cab.
  • Consider replacing manual gates with those that can be remotely opened and closed from the vehicle.
  • Make sure all machines are equipped with fire extinguishers and a cell phone or two-way radio.

Getting an injured farmer or rancher to agree to take it easy will be anything but. Still, Grisso says it’s worth it. “I agree it is hard but the body does need time to heal,” he says. “If you get a secondary injury, it will take longer and possibly cause permanent damage.” 

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