[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 19-Jul-2012
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Contact: Erin White
ewhite@northwestern.edu
847-491-4888
Northwestern University

Farmers tough on artificial limbs

Study finds that farmers and ranchers have unique prosthetic needs after an amputation

CHICAGO --- When a farmer or rancher is injured on the job, there's an 11 percent chance that an amputation will occur. That's two and a half times more likely than in any other industry.

Most of these amputations involve fingers or toes. But the artificial hands, arms, legs, feet and other prostheses used by agricultural workers with a major limb amputation don't seem to be durable, affordable or adaptable enough for their lifestyles, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

Published online in the journal Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, this is the first study to provide detailed information on the limitations facing farmers and ranchers with prosthetics.

The study is part of a larger research project at the Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center that aims to design educational materials tailored to the specific needs of farmers and ranchers with amputations and work with prosthesis manufacturers to develop and reengineer more robust products and components.

"We are also exploring how products created for people with amputations in developing countries may benefit farmers and ranchers here in the U.S.," said Craig Heckathorne, research engineer in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and second author of the study.

Results of this ongoing research could benefit people with amputations who work in other physically demanding professions such as the military, construction, forestry, commercial fishing, mining and manufacturing.

"There are lot of issues and challenges to farming with a prosthesis," said Stefania Fatone, research associate professor in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Feinberg and corresponding author of the study. "They often need to climb ladders and silos, lift bags of feed and seed and walk on uneven terrain, in all kinds of weather conditions. Also, a dairy farmer may have very different needs than a corn farmer or cattle rancher."

Heckathorne and Kathryn Waldera, research engineer in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Feinberg and lead author of the study, conducted intensive one-on-one interviews with 40 American farmers and ranchers with amputations to gather information about how current and past prostheses were used, prosthetic failures and their ability to complete farm tasks while using a prosthesis. They also interviewed 26 prosthetists, who provide services to farmers and ranchers. Prosthetists are trained health care professionals who design and fit prostheses to help people with limb loss function more fully.

The study found that the common problems farmers and ranchers face revolve around these themes:

These findings have provided a framework for an even larger study on this issue, the researchers said. They are currently recruiting farmers and ranchers with amputations from across the United States to take part.

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