What is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics is defined as an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.
Ergonomics is something we all should think about, whether we have an office job, are a healthcare worker, mechanic, custodian, and the list goes on. Most injuries don’t happen overnight but occur from doing day to day duties in the workplace or everyday life. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, there were a total of 2,857,400 injuries. Of these injuries 317,530 were sprains, strains and tears while 154,180 of these injuries were back/spine injuries. Proper ergonomics can help minimize the risk of injury, especially if your daily routine includes one or more of the below risk factors.
- Repetitive/sustained awkward postures
- Forceful exertions
- High task repetitions.
If you spend most of your day at a computer or at a desk job, you need to make sure your body is supported with good posture and your workstation is set up appropriately for YOU. Neck and upper extremity pain are a common finding in workplaces in which individuals are at a workstation all day. According to a study by Cagnie, etc over a 12 month period the prevalence of neck pain in office workers was 45.5%. They also found people older than 30 years have 2.61 times more chance of having neck pain than younger individuals and being physically active decreases the likelihood of having neck pain.
Here are a few tips to limit your chances of developing related workstation pain:
-Make sure things you use repetitively such as the phone, files , stapler, etc are easily accessible at your workstation to avoid twisting, bending, or reaching excessively throughout the day.
– Be aware of your posture while at your workstation. Below is a diagram of correct ergonomics while sitting at a workstation.
– Get up and move throughout your workday, preferably every 45-60 minutes
– Be physically active
When it comes to lifting, pushing/pulling, and activities of high repetitions, it’s important to perform these activities safely. We’ve all been there where we do something out of our normal routine that takes 5+ hours of lifting, sustained and/or awkward postures, repetitive tasks, such as painting a house, building a fence, gardening, moving boxes, etc and then later that evening or the next day you feel it in your back. Now what if you do this type of work 40+ hours a week? You will build up endurance and strength for the tasks, of course, but if you are lifting, bending, twisting, reaching wrong, your body is undergoing small traumas each day, which can add up to a bigger issue down the road.
Here are some tips with repetitive lifting, pushing, pulling activities:
– Work close to object, keeping the object close to your center with lifting, pushing, pulling, etc.
– Avoid twisting, instead pivot feet to object or task
– Don’t hold breath. Make sure to breath with lifting.
– Have a broad base of support to keep balanced during task
– Bend from your hips and legs, not from your back
– Pull core in ‘slightly’ to support spine with activity (while still breathing)
Below is a picture of correct lifting technique.
I will leave you with one last thought and diagram that looks at the compression forces going through your lower spine with different positions. Laying down, positioned on your back, your lower spine has the least amount of compression forces at 25%. Then look at how sitting in a poor posture increases that force to 275%. Keep that in mind throughout your daily activities.
There are many other facets and factors to help keep you safe and decrease the risk for injury in the workplace and with your daily activities. The hope is with the above information, it will encourage you to take a closer look at your current work station set up, be conscious of your posture, and how you are lifting/moving throughout your day.
Written by: Brittany Milne, PT, DPT
Brittany is a Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist and an Emory Certified Vestibular Therapist for APRS Physical Therapy in Bozeman, Montana.
- Cagnie B, Danneels L, VanTiggelen D et al. Individual and work related risk factors for neck pain among office workers: a cross sectional study.Eur Spine J. 2007 May;16(5):679-86. Epub 2006 Dec 8.
- Jensen C (2003) Development of neck and hand-wrist symptoms in relation to duration of computer use at work. Scand J Work Environ Health 29:197–205
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ergonomics. Accessed July 31, 2018
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016. https://www.bls.gov/iif/. Accessed July 31, 2018