There is no doubt that these devices have made a huge difference to the shearing business. The tension of the springs allows the shearer to 'float' about the animal without much need for back muscle activity. This has a huge effect on relieving the compressive forces of the muscles holding the spine in a bent-over position. Without the huge muscular compression the problems of shearing are almost eradicated.
Back Aid harnesses have to be unhooked from around the abdomen so the shearer can going to the pen behind and drag out the next sheep. For this reason, some won't wear a harness as it slows them down. Others will not wear one for the shorter duration shearing jobs, such a crutching (removal of the daggy wool around the sheep's bottom). Others say they don't like them because they make their back weaker.
It is also important to have the rotatable lever arm above to which the harness is attached. It swings around through a 180° range and is much sophisticated than just a simple wire attachment to an overhead beam in the woolshed. The swinging arm allows much more manoeuvrability and makes the shearing easier.
If your back is starting to give trouble by the muscles not switching off properly when you stand up, it is worth experimenting with the tension of the springs. Setting them at maximum tension requires the shearer to pull forward against the spring resistance to get access to the sheep. This maximally recruits the abdominal muscles at the front which has a welcome physiological effect of switching off the back muscles at the back. This simple trick is the ideal strategy when the back is starting to complain
To prevent you ever getting to this point however, it is best to have the springs of lower tension, as this still makes the back work to some degree and avoids the muscles getting weak. Another strategy is to wear the harness for only part of the day, say the later part of the day when the back is starting to get fatigued.
The best therapy for all backs – not just shearers' backs – is making them do things in all directions. Broadly speaking, the more you make a back work in a variety of different ways, the better it responds. All intervertebral discs respond well to grand scale spinal activity. End-of-range movement shunts fluid in and out of the discs, feeding them and stimulating all the biosynthetic processes that keep them vigorously alive and healthy. That is therapy.
Intermittent spinal decompression deals with shearers' back and prolongs the working life of shearers . The passive hyperextension of the BackBlock routine puts the spine into the opposite of the bent forward posture, giving welcome relief to the compressive forces, while at the same time sucking fluid back into the intervertebral discs. Most shearers with a bad back intuitively do their best to achieve this, simply by lying flat on the woolshed floor at 'smoko' and other breaks. But they can do better with fulcrum under the back of the pelvis to gently ease the spine apart.
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