By Debbie James

A Pembrokeshire-based physiotherapist is urging farmers to protect their feet and joints.

The main culprit for the skeletal problems that inflict pain and misery on farmers is the wellington boot and the many hours they spend wearing them.

Then there is the nature of farm work, says Jeroen Bruins.

During his 24 years of helping those in pain and discomfort many of his patients have been working farmers or those who have retired from the industry who present with foot or foot-related injuries and disorders.

“The farming industry is notorious for working long hours in all sorts of conditions, on any ground surface and in any position, and this often requires prolonged periods of loading on the feet as well as other lower and upper limbs, pelvic and spinal parts of the body,’’ says Mr Bruins, of Physiofit West Wales.

This, he warns, has the potential to increase the risk of common foot and ankle injuries.

If ignored, these can lead to chronic pain, discomfort and, in some cases, deformity.

“We often see that chronic foot injuries and deformity have contributed greatly to the wear and tear of knee and hip joints in later life,’’ says Mr Bruins.

But the good news is, that just as lameness is preventable in livestock, so too is it in farmers.

Wearing suitable footwear which accommodate the feet in the best position and which absorb the forces equally throughout the feet will give the correct support and safety for the feet and ankle joints, Mr Bruins advises.

The new generation of farmers are benefitting from huge improvements to farm footwear and this has resulted in a noticeable reduction in the foot and ankle-related injuries and disorders that their parents endured, he says.

“I would certainly recommend investing in a good variety of footwear, suited to different types of farm work and to different work surfaces.’’

Common foot injuries associated with farming and how to prevent them

Plantar fasciitis: this inflammation of the connective tissue at the bottom of the foot which supports the arch can be caused by repetitive loading or running, having a natural high arch or tight calf muscles.

Sufficient arch support and calf stretching can prevent or reduce the discomfort from an irritated plantar fascia.

Achilles tendinitis: an inflammation of the tendon of the calf muscles attached to the heel bone which, like plantar fasciitis, can be caused by very tight calf muscles.

Due to excessive loading by farmers, hill farmers in particular, this is not uncommon in farming. Mr Bruins recommends the same preventative strategies as for plantar fasciitis.

A heel spur: this is an excessive bone growth that forms on top of normal bone and is more often seen in people with flat feet – those with no heel arch – and can be a result of wearing inadequate footwear.

As heel spurs can be initiated during childhood, parents are advised to make sure that their children’s wellingtons have suitable support, those that hold the joints of the foot in a good bio-mechanical position.

Other risk factors are tight ligaments, arthritis, excess body weight and excessive walking or indeed combinations of these, many of which can be prevented.

Ankle sprains and strains: these happen when the ankle twists inwards or outwards, leading to trauma to ligaments and muscle or tendon fibres.

This is caused by intricate footwork, often on uneven surfaces or by sudden changing in direction.

This is a common injury in farming because working conditions often involve uneven surfaces. The better the foot is supported, the less this is likely to happen, says Mr Bruins.

Tips for wellington boots wearers

Replace boots when they are worn out and feet no longer feel supported, once this happens feet will start incurring damage.

The ideal boot should have a supportive foot bed and also a cushioned heel, which helps to support the arch of the foot.

Support under the big toe is preferable too as a lack of support here can result in lower back pain.