Posture Part II: Ergonomics

If it seems like ergonomic workstations are all the rage right now, that’s because Americans are getting tired of having sore backs, necks and wrists. We’re tired of sitting all day long – and our spines have had it.

Like I said – if the spine ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy.

As a society, we sit more than any previous generation. With the advent of online communication, even predominantly active professions involve increasing amounts of computer time.

I’ll use the staff at Asheville Family Fitness as an example – notice how the PT’s have those rolling desks they can raise and lower, depending on what they need? In this way, they can actively take notes during their work with patients, and can alternate between standing and sitting as it suits them.

Even the trainers spend their share of time at a desk. We hate it more than anything – try getting Lucas to sit still for more than 20 minutes – but it’s a necessary part of the job. Personally, I spend more time at the computer than anywhere else.

Ergonomics can be summed up as the study of designing equipment and devices that fit the human body and its cognitive abilities. 

Lately, ergonomic workstations have been all the rage (or maybe it just seems that way to me, since I spend all day surrounded by PTs). The main intention behind this is to position the equipment in a way that maintains proper spinal alignment and reduces musculoskeletal strain.

Most people seek out this kind of equipment as a result of chronic pain. Usually, the pain reaches an intolerable level, the person sees a physical therapist or orthopedist, and comes away with a recommendation for ergonomic equipment. The two most common examples are wrist pain and back pain.

Below are some ergonomic guidelines:

Or, check out this guy:

Chillin'.

Just a thought: wouldn’t it be great to utilize ergonomics in a preventative way? You know, start with good spinal positioning, maintain it, and live a happy and pain-free life?

Fortunately, more and more individuals and companies are asking this same question, and creating your own ergonomic workstation is easier than ever.

Here are some of Damon’s top ergonomic tips:

  • Take frequent breaks. During those breaks, stretch and/or walk around. Get some natural light if you can.
  • Alternate between standing and sitting. Stand for a few minutes, sit for a few minutes, and if you can, use a high seat, like a bar stool.
  • Move as much as you can while you work. The spine was designed for movement, not stillness. Shifting your weight from one foot to another is a good example. So is gentle twisting from side to side.
  • HYDRATE – never underestimate the importance of water.
  • Most strains and sprains to your back are the result of over-stretching of the supportive muscles. This occurs when the lower back is bowed out or the upper back is slumped. Do your best to keep your lower back in its normal position at all times. (For more information on spinal curvature, click here).

There are numerous ergonomic products on the market today. A full workstation can be pretty pricey, but there are a few items you can acquire on the cheap, and many DIY techniques.

A wireless keyboard runs anywhere from $20-$80, depending on what you need (and yes, you can use a non-Apple keyboard with an Apple computer). This is essential if you work from a laptop, because the ideal ergonomic position of the monitor is much higher than that of the keyboard. On a laptop. you can either take care of your neck, or your wrists and shoulders – but never both together.

A standing workstation makes a huge difference. You can spend up to $600 on one that adjusts for standing and sitting, and has all kinds of other ergonomic features. Or you can do what I do, and stack some boxes on top of your desk.

Some of my personal tips:

  • Make sure the room is at a comfortable temperature. Being cold can cause you to clench the shoulders and neck. Being too warm makes you sleepy and slouchy.
  • I like to sit on a stability ball rather than in a chair. My back gets a little more tired, but that’s okay – it reminds me to take a break.
  • I follow Damon’s advice of alternate sitting and standing – but I listen to music while I work, and usually move and dance a little. If I’m standing, it’s just a subtle boogie. When I’m sitting, I bounce or roll around on the stability ball. Does it look silly? Probably. But my back feels better than ever, plus it’s fun.
  • Three minutes lying flat on your back on a hard floor is incredibly restorative.
  • If you have a hard time breaking away from your work, use an alarm set every half hour to remind you. There are apps and specific computer programs for this – but your cellphone alarm works well too.

Do you have ideas for making your workstation more ergonomic? Share them in the comments below!

How many times do you think I can use the word “ergonomics” today?

For more information, check out this fascinating and informative article on Wikipedia.

Written by Sam

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