Farming is an industry where scheduling is ruled by the seeds we sow, the animals we raise, and the people we feed. While many would expect that a certain level of fatigue and tension would accompany the busy seasons, there’s more to it than that.
Tension that causes discomfort or pain and fatigue are signs that the body isn’t adapting correctly to the situation — not necessarily just a normal side-effect of being busy. Muscle groups holding tension can show up as mental/emotional stress, dehydration, or poor movement habits.
During busy seasons, farmers spend a lot of time either sitting in equipment, or lifting/throwing/climbing into equipment. If movements are done correctly, the more dynamic actions should not cause pain/tension. Even though most people have poor movement patterns that can create tension and pain, there’s also tension caused by immobility. Your mother wasn’t totally incorrect when she said, “If you make that face for too long it’ll get stuck there!” The body begins building connective tissues around joints and muscle when we remain in one position past the 19-minute mark. This means those long days in the combine can result in sore backs, tense shoulders, and stiff necks.
To help offset the necessary periods of time spent sitting during farm life, try these suggestions: Every 20 minutes (set an alarm on your phone) bring your awareness to your breathing. Breathe deep down into your lower ribs and expand the whole rib cage. (This can be done while driving.) Then, shrug the shoulders up towards the ears and with an exhale roll them down towards the hips. Rotate as much as safely possible in your seat both directions a few times. Tuck the chin towards the base of the skull and do small rotations and side-to-side movements with the head. Next, squeeze your butt cheeks together and hold for 10 seconds, repeat this 10 times. Brace your core for 10 seconds, and repeat for 10 rounds. Scrunch your toes up in your shoes 10 times in a row, and spread them as wide as you can inside your shoes.
When you have a chance to get out of the seat and stand on solid ground, add in some total body movements. Folding forwards towards the toes, reaching up towards the sky, stepping wide out to the side and bending into one leg to stretch through the legs (repeating on each side), arm circles. Avoid any movement that causes pain. Any movement causing pain should be assessed by a movement-based professional (athletic therapist, kinesiologist, physiotherapist, etc.). Pain with movement is not a normal part of life.
Doing that small sequence of body movements will break up the sitting in your day, help to keep you energized, and assist in preventing undue body tension.
The other things that can contribute to tension are poor hydration habits and mental/emotional stress.
Healthy adults need between two to three litres of water a day, and even more during busy times. Have a large water bottle or two with you always to sip from. Add lemon/lime juice, herbs or even electrolytes to the water to help the cells grab hold of the water as it enters the system (this will help mitigate necessary pit stops too).
Tension that is related to mental/emotional holding patterns is common, especially during busy seasons. Taking time to decompress after a long day is imperative. At the end of your long day (and during if you can), try to spend a minimum of five minutes with yourself (phone free). Combine some hydration and breathing with this and you have a recipe for tension prevention.