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Save Your Back: Work Style, Exercise Can Help Avoid Back Strain

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Back strain among farriers is often considered the price one pays for doing something one loves. Years spent curled into a human question mark all too frequently take their toll in the form of herniated disks, strained back muscles and - ultimately and unfortunately - pain.

There is some good news in this scenario, however. With proper technique and some simple exercises, farriers can reduce their risk of back injury and lessen the probability of wear and tear over time.

“Shoeing horses and back strain do not necessarily have to go hand-in-hand,” says Tim Parnell, a physical therapist and athletic trainer who is a managing partner in Allegany Sports Medicine, a division of Rehab Solutions, which provides a myriad of rehabilitation services in Maryland. “Learning proper body mechanics coupled with stretching and aerobic exercise can mean the difference between ongoing back discomfort and maintaining back health.”

According to Parnell, the first step in relieving the back pressure often associated with shoeing horses is awareness of one’s body. Called “body mechanics,” proper positioning during the shoeing process can often prevent strain in the first place.

The basic rules governing body mechanics include bending at the hips and the knees in order to maintain the natural arch of the back (i.e., no hunching - keep that back straight), and contracting the abdominal muscles while bending to lend the back support.

“Initially, when you begin to use proper body mechanics you literally have to think about how you’re physically approaching your work,” Parnell states. “Eventually, it becomes second nature.”

In addition to the basic rules governing bending and lifting, periodically changing one’s position during the shoeing process can also help. Using a foot stand whenever possible can also help take the strain off the back. Again, even using these alternatives the farrier must be ever aware of the natural arch of the back - bending from the hips and knees continues to be important, Parnell says.

While body mechanics is important, simply following proper procedure while working is not enough to keep one healthy. In addition to body mechanics, farriers should perform simple stretching and strengthening exercises each day and should perform at least 20 minutes of aerobic activity three times each week.

In addition to these simple exercises, Parnell recommends that some sort of aerobic activity - walking, biking, etc. - be done three times a week for at least 20 minutes.
Before beginning any exercise program, Parnell cautions farriers to consult a physician.

STRECHES

  1. Hamstring stretch: Lie on your back and lift one leg from the floor, supporting the thigh behind the knee. Slowly straighten the leg until a stretch is felt in the back of the thigh. Hold for 15 seconds. Do each leg 10 times.
  2. Knee to chest stretch: Lie on your back and pull one knee to the chest until a stretch is felt in the lower back and buttocks. Hold 15 seconds. Repeat 10 times with each leg.
  3. Press Up: Lie on your stomach. Keeping your hips on the floor, push your upper body off the floor while keeping your lower back and buttocks relaxed. Hold 15 seconds. Repeat 10 times.

STRENGTHENING EXERCISES

  1. Abdominal crunches: Lie on the floor. Fold arms across chest and tilt pelvis into floor to flatten back. Raise head and shoulders from floor, hold 15 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
  2. Bridging: Lie on the floor. Slowly raise buttocks from the floor, keeping stomach tight. Hold 15 seconds, repeat 10 times.
  3. Quadrupeds: Kneel on floor on all fours. Tighten stomach and simultaneously raise leg and opposite arm. Hold five seconds and slowly return to starting position. Repeat 10 times.
  4. Wall slides: Leaning on wall, slowly lower buttocks toward floor until thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold 10 seconds, repeat 10 times.
  5. Toe raises: Standing, rise on the balls of your feet, hold 15 seconds. Repeat 10 times.

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