Agridirect.ie discusses how spending a lot of time driving a tractor can be harmful to the lower back, and offers farmers some advice on how to reduce risk this silage season.
A physically demanding profession
The number of farmers who complain of back pain during this time of year is always very high. If you, personally, haven’t experienced persistent aching in the lower back, you almost certainly know a farmer who has. Now, there are many possible causes of back pain. Farming is a physically demanding profession, after all, and entails many activities that are potentially harmful to the back muscles. Tasks such as pitching and lifting heavy weights are notoriously hard on this part of the body.
At the same time, however, there is no doubt that one of the main causes of back pain among farmers is the machine that reduces physical labour the most. I mean the tractor, of course. At this time of year, many of us will spend entire days and large chunks of the night on the seat of a tractor. This time spent in the cab can be very enjoyable, especially if you have something good to listen to or if you want to get lost in your own thoughts. But it is important to remember that the constant vibrations of a moving tractor put the back muscles under considerable strain. There are numerous scientific studies to back this up.
Oh to be young again
No doubt, many of the younger guys will have stopped reading at this point. Not for them all this talk about aches and pains. To those lads, all I can say is this – give it time and you’ll find out. When you’re in your teens and early twenties, your body can put up with a lot of battering without slowing you down. You might think that driving a tractor for 12 hours straight is doing no harm, but it will catch up on you when you hit 30 or 40. Believe me, your body will thank you down the line for the respect you show it now.
At any rate, those of us who are a bit longer in the tooth need to be cautious when it comes to spending long days in the cab. If you have suffered from back pain in the past, consider getting somebody else to share the driving duties with you this summer. If you can’t afford the luxury of a second driver, try to break up the day as much as possible. Don’t drive for longer than a couple of hours at a time. When you take your breaks, use the time to go for a short walk. and stretch your back.
Some extra precautions against back pain
Lower back pain from tractor driving is not an inevitable consequence of spending time behind the wheel. Aside from taking regular breaks from the tractor seat, there are additional precautions that you can take to reduce the risk of serious pain. For the most part, these are common sense steps that can be easy to overlook in the panic to get the silage home.
First of all, you need to make sure you have a good tractor seat that provides ample support for your back. An adjustable seat is best, as this will allow you to move your position so that your hips are level with your knees while you drive. Remember that ensuring your upper legs are not “sloped” is essential for maintaining good posture in the tractor.
Always sit up straight in the seat. If you are not satisfied with the quality of your tractor seat and don’t want to replace it, you should try to support it using a cushion that is comfortable but not excessively soft.
When taking breaks, you should also be very careful about how dismount from the cab. Make sure that you step down from the tractor moving backward rather than forward. Forward movement on the ladder will risk putting a strain on your back at a time when it is already very vulnerable.
Thanks for reading
So those are some of our thoughts on avoiding back pain in the tractor cab this summer. We are aware that our readership is made up of experienced farmers, and that many of you will have developed great techniques for preserving your back during this busy time of the year. If you have any thoughts, please let us know in the comments section. As always, we’d love to hear from you.