Back Injuries and Production Agriculture

Use the following format to cite this article:

Back injuries and production agriculture. (2012) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from….


Farmers and ranchers are vulnerable to developing back injuries because of risk factors in the workplace such as awkward postures, whole-body vibration, repetitive motions, and forceful exertions, including heaving lifting. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), back injuries are one of the leading causes of disability in the workplace and cause human suffering and loss of productivity and strain the compensation system.

The spine is composed of vertebrae, bony blocks stacked on top of each other to support the trunk and head, allow flexibility, and protect the spinal cord. Discs act as cushions between vertebrae and have strong outer shells and jelly-like middles. The muscles located on the back, abdomen, and buttocks provide stability and help maintain proper posture.

A back injury can develop gradually from a repetitive activity or suddenly from a single traumatic event, such as improperly lifting a load or lifting a load that is too heavy. Back impairments can range from mild and temporary to incapacitating and permanent. Many acute back injuries occur when doing activities, such as the following, that exceed the capacity of muscles, tendons, or discs:

  • Reaching while lifting or lifting with bad posture
  • Engaging in unaccustomed work
  • Engaging in repetitive lifting with inadequate rest
  • Bending or twisting while lifting
  • Lifting objects that are too heavy
  • Lifting with improper foot placement

Prolonged driving of vehicles that cause whole-body vibration, such as tractors or trucks, can be a risk factor for developing a back impairment. Whole-body vibration can aggravate existing back injuries and increase pain levels.

Typical treatment  for a back injury can include physical therapy and medication, but more complex treatments may be necessary for a debilitating back impairment. Therapy usually involves stretching exercises, walking, and normal activity, provided that activity is not excessively strenuous. Consult a health care professional for specific treatment recommendations.

Strategies to Prevent Back Injuries

A back impairment can happen in any type of home, work, or recreational environment. Basic injury-prevention strategies include staying healthy and fit, maintaining good posture, and getting regular exercise. According to WorkSafeBC, using the following strategies when bending, lifting, and carrying objects can help reduce the risk of a back impairment:

  • Place your feet apart to improve your balance and center your body weight.
  • Maintain a good grip on the object and use appropriate gloves when needed. 
  • Keep a straight back when possible and avoid awkward postures.
  • Hold the object as close to your body as possible.
  • Use smooth, slow motions to lift and carry a load.
  • Never twist your back or waist, but rather pivot with your feet if you need to turn.
  • When you have the option, push rather than pull a load.
  • Prior to lifting, make sure that there are no obstructions in your intended path.
  • Get help with heavy, awkward loads.

Responding to Back Injuries

If you are the manager at a farm or ranch and there is a pattern of back injuries related to a specific task, you should examine the task and complete a job safety analysis (JSA) to identify hazards associated with the task and develop controls to reduce the risk of injury for workers. 

Additional Recommendations

  • When possible, rely on machinery or equipment such as pushcarts, hand trucks, wheelbarrows, or hoists to move objects. 
  • If you are taking medication for a back injury, check prescriptions and any over-the-counter medications to ensure that medication will not impact your ability to safely operate equipment.
  • Work with a partner to lift objects that are heavy or bulky. Team lifting should be done by two people of similar size who can communicate and work together.
  • Rotate employees between lifting and nonlifting tasks.

For a demonstration of proper lifting techniques, watch the following video:


Click here to view back stretching and strengthening exercises recommended by the Mayo Clinic.

Use the following format to cite this article:

Back injuries and production agriculture. (2012) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from….


Back disorders and injuries. (n.d.) OSHA Technical Manual. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Retrieved from

Back talk: An owner’s manual for backs. (2010) Workers Compensation Board of British Columbia. Retrieved from

Sesto, M. (2002) Chronic musculoskeletal disorders in agriculture for partners in agricultural health. University of Wisconsin–Madison: Department of Industrial Engineering. Retrieved from….

Whole-body vibration in agriculture. (2009) Health and Safety Executive. Retrieved from

Reviewed and Summarized by:
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University –
Andrew Merryweather, University of Utah –
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University (Has since retired)
Robert Stuthridge, Purdue University –
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center –