Living With Chronic Pain

Ergonomics At Home

We spend the majority of our day working, whether it’s in an office, or due to COVID, at home. Making sure this space remains ergonomically safe is important. But home encompasses far more than only job related activities. Everything we do in the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, bedroom… has an impact. Anything we can do to prevent injury and added strain to our muscles will help lessen pain levels. Here are some simple ways to improve home ergonomics in all areas of the house.

Kitchen

Store heavy items between hip and shoulder height to prevent bending and stooping. Store medium-weight items just above or below the heavier ones, but never at eye level or below the knees. Take the lightest items and put them in either the lowest or overhead cabinets. A falling cereal box won’t break a toe or knock you out.

In upper cabinets, add a mechanism that allows shelves to be pulled out, and when needed, down for easier access to all shelving regardless of placement. Use a step stool when needed to prevent stretching.

Make sure everything you need to prepare food is out and close by so constant trips to drawers and cabinets is minimized. 

Open a cabinet door and use it as as a step to take pressure off the back.

Use padded mats to take pressure off the feet when standing.

Get hand held items with larger, more comfortable, angled handles. And keep knives and scissors sharpened to cut with ease.

Use power tools such as blenders, food processors, and electric can openers to decrease repetitive motions.

Cleaning

This most basic requirement at home can cause incredible pain and heartache if not done properly. From awkward positions that require painful posturing and high hand forces, to prolonged bending and stooping, to above shoulder level repetitive motions-the chances for injury or trauma are high. Try these tips:

Use tools that have extended handled to reach hard to access places, and let you stay upright, not hunched over.

Wear hand mitts or cleaning gloves to limit locking digits that lead to trigger fingers.

Pretreat surfaces to minimize the need for scrubbing. 

Bathrooms

Add a seating area to the bathroom and inside the shower. Make sure it’s water proof and won’t slip. Being able to take a load off when putting on makeup, getting that perfect hairstyle, or washing up can have a huge impact on lessening pain levels and potential for injury.

For most chronic pain sufferers, cold is our enemy. Put in heaters to warm the air when leaving the shower or tub. Add a towel warmer for a cozier exit from the bath or shower.

Don’t forget wall bars to aid in safely getting up and down and in and out of places. Elevate the toilet seat and make sure the toilet paper holders are easily accessible.

Laundry

Use laundry baskets with wheels and round edges that have multiple compartments to allow quick separation of dark from white and wet clothes to save sorting time and needing to bend over later.

Add a chair and step stools for rest periods and access without having to reach.

Use proper body mechanics. Keep feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent. Brace one knee on the washer or dryer or extend one leg back to support the lower spine. Support upper body weight by putting one hand on the machine and use the other to put in or take out clothes.

Work with a small amount of clothes at a time. 

Handheld devices

Between phones, tablets, and other devices, we are all spending more and more time attached to our devices, which sets up all sorts of problems in our hands, spines, and extremities.

On smaller devices, thumbs are the only way to input data, leading to sprains, strains and trigger fingers. Try limiting typing to 10-15 minute intervals with a few minutes of rest in between.

Use a large grip stylus when possible.

Watch your posture. Remember, for every 1 inch you tilt your head to read and focus on your device you increase the weight on your neck and spine by 10 pounds.

Music

Most instruments require repetitive motions and in some cases awkward positions to play. If playing while seated, make sure you can position the chair so that your knees and hips stay at the same level with feet firmly planted on the ground. Use a neck strap with appropriate instruments whenever possible to distribute the instruments weight.

Backpacks

Backpacks are preferable over shoulder purses or messenger bags that put all the pressure on one shoulder. If you weigh 100 pounds or less, limit what you carry to 15 pounds, 25 pounds otherwise. Always use both arm straps- too often I see people throwing a backpack over just one shoulder instead of using all the straps intended to keep weight secured and distributed throughout the torso. Find a pack with wide, padded straps and an a waist belt when possible for even better support. Make sure it sits below the shoulder and rests on the hips and pelvis. Use the smallest backpack possible that still fits your frame.

Outdoors

Don’t forget to make sure you’re using the best tools when gardening and working outside the house. Maintain proper posture at all times and always bend with the knees, minimize bending, stooping, lifting and use step stools and ladders for hard to reach areas to limit reaching.

Writing

This may be a lost art, but putting notes on paper still comes in handy. Choose pens and pencils that minimize the pressure required to write and encourage a lighter grip. Roller balls and felt pens all glide. For some, that means a wider or padded grip, for me, the thinner the better. It took years to find the perfect pen. One that allows me to take notes on patient charts without straining my hand or contributing to the occasional trigger finger. Keep the entire arm in play so the wrist and hand aren’t the only areas engaged by keeping the wrist neutral, initiating movement with the shoulder and not planting the forearm and wrist on the table. The same recommendations apply for the desk, chair and maintaining proper posture as they do for computing.

Hobbies

Whether it’s fixing the car, sewing, or painting, the same ergonomic guidelines should be followed.

Keep areas well lit to lessen eye strain.

Don’t hunch over, face work straight on to minimize strain on the spine, arms and legs.

Use padded carpets and comfortable shoes if extended periods of standing are required.

Invest in ergonomically designed tools and use electric ones when possible to decrease the need for added torque and power.


Every little bit helps and by the end of the day it all adds up. Everyone benefits when activities in the office and the house are as ergonomically efficient as possible. Our bodies will thank us when it’s time to crawl into bed each night.


https://ehs.unc.edu/workplace-safety/ergonomics/outside/
https://www.ergonomics.org.uk/common/Uploaded%20files/Publications/CIEHF-Working-from-Home-Infographic.pdf
https://www.verywellhealth.com/home-office-set-up-tips-4801196
https://www.healthline.com/health-news/6-simple-solutions-to-improve-the-ergonomics-of-your-home-workspace
https://healthmatters.idaho.gov/ergonomics-at-home/

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