Farming and Gardening with Chronic Pain: Strategies for Managing Your Pain

Laura Akgerman Disability Services Coordinator for Ohio AgrAbility

Chronic pain is common among farmers and gardeners because of the physical nature of their work. Pushing, pulling, lifting, carrying, and walking can all aggravate existing conditions, or cause new disabling or painful conditions. If a farmer or gardener has a disability, chronic pain may be a side effect of that disability. Some strategies to manage the pain are to use medication, exercise, hydrotherapy (using ice or heat), meditation, stretching and “working through the pain”. Ignoring or working through the pain is not a good strategy, because it may aggravate a chronic condition or disability, or cause an injury, which cause more pain, and loss of ability to work.

Not all of these strategies will work for everyone, and some may be impossible because of a disabling condition or physical ability. Please consult with a doctor before making changes in your medication, exercise or diet and nutrition.

Medication Over the counter pain medication can be very effective at managing pain. If these pain medications do not work, a doctor may be able to prescribe a pain medication; please be aware of the risks of addiction and increased tolerance for a pain relief drug. There is an unfortunate epidemic of opioid addiction, and more than 80% of people who are addicted started with a pain medication from a doctor. If you are prescribed a pain medication, talk to your doctor about how long you should take the drug, when you should stop taking it, and how to dispose of unused drugs.

Exercise If you are able to exercise this can be a very effective way to manage pain, strengthen your body, increase your flexibility and possibly reduce your risk of injury. If you do not exercise regularly, start slowly with low weights and shorter workouts. It is easy to be excited and overexert yourself when you begin exercising, this is not beneficial, as you could hurt yourself, and you may not want to continue exercising if you are in pain after every workout.

Ice or Heat Applying ice or heat can help reduce pain, and can promote healing of an injury. Ice is good if you are swollen or want to numb the pain. Use a bag of ice or frozen peas wrapped in a kitchen towel, do not apply ice directly to your skin, you could give yourself an ice burn.

Heat is good for painful and stiff joints or muscles, it can soften and loosen muscles, and reduce pain. Use an electric heating pad, and do not lay on it, or you could burn yourself.

Meditation and Mindfulness Meditating or listening to guided imagery can be helpful to redirect your mind away from the pain. Using guided imagery can help you imagine a relaxing place where you are not in pain. Mindfulness focuses your attention on the present moment, and how you are reacting and thinking about the pain. Meditation can also help if you have difficulty sleeping.

Stretching, Tai Chi or Yoga Stretching, yoga and tai chi can help with increasing flexibility, relaxing tight or stiff muscles, and building strength. All are typically done slowly, are low impact (no hard striking of the floor with your feet), and can be done without any equipment.

For more information, please contact Laura Akgerman, Ohio AgrAbility and OSU Extension Disability Services Coordinator, at, or 614-292-0622.