Ergonomics is about making where we work, live, and play better suited to our individual needs in order to increase efficiency and productivity while acknowledging the importance of comfort. It doesn’t just focus on physical needs but cognitive ones as well.
It’s often thought of as just a workplace intervention but work is defined as, “any action that requires a physical or mental effort to achieve a particular purpose or result.” Home impacts can be just as devastating. That’s why understanding the interactions between how we sit, stand, and move throughout the day is an important aspect to dealing with chronic pain.
Most of us come home from long hours at the computer with worsening headaches, neck and back pain. An active job that requires a lot of movement can be just as difficult if the process isn’t set up to accommodate those actions safely, like standing to make dinner, wash the dishes, even read or watch TV in bed can exacerbate an already painful day into an excruciating one. For those of us suffering from chronic pain, any change in our posture, weight bearing, lifting, standing, or twisting. . .can add to it.
That’s where the science of ergonomics comes in. Every time we understand how certain activities and movements cause pain we can learn ways to lessen their impact by tweaking and optimizing each setting to suit our individual needs. It is derived from the Greek word “ergon” meaning work and “nomos” meaning laws. Together it represents a science that defines ways to remove incompatibilities and promote the optimal environment for any activity. At home or at work.
It deals with both:
This takes into account human anatomy, anthropometric, physiological, and biomechanical aspects of every action and its impact on the body. It is the science of matching those involved capabilities with the required activity to lessen injury, especially musculoskeletal ones.
Ergonomics isn’t just concerned with the physical aspects, it requires including cognitive ones as well- perception, memory, reasoning, motor responses, work load, stress also affects all our interactions. When stressed, we tense our muscles, clench our jaws and tend to hold our breath. Even a few minutes, let alone an entire day, of any of these can significantly elevate pain levels.
It is accomplished by:
Assessing risk. The priority is to effectively assess activities that put people at risk for musculoskeletal problems. Planning changes. This requires outlining goals that can be implemented easily and in the case of businesses, cost efficient.
Measuring improvements. Constantly monitoring what works and what doesn’t is imperative to any well functioning program.
Once a plan works, it can then be used in a multitude of areas to improve function while lessening pain and/ or injury.
By designing changes with all these issues in mind efficiency and performance improves in all aspects of our lives. Simple changes like:
- How to place your computer keyboard can stop eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome, neck pain
- Making sure your chair height allows your feet to rest flat on the floor to better align your lower back, hips and legs.
- Learning the best ways to lift.
- Using gloves to suppress vibrations from tools and keep trigger fingers at bay.
- Learning to maintain a proper posture at all times.
- How to read in bed so the arms and neck aren’t stressed.
- Positioning pillows to make watching TV optimal so already achy muscles aren’t stressed.
- Not standing or walking on hard floors for long periods of time.
Ergonomics is finding the correct balance between needing to get a job done and get it done without harm. Next week I’ll explain more specifically how just a few easy adjustments can help.