What are ergonomics?
Ergonomics is the study and practice of improving the way people move and function within their daily life. Emphasis is placed on maximizing efficiency and safety through the use of certain tools or body mechanic strategies, and identifying how certain factors may be contributing to injury. The term ergonomics comes from the Greek language and roughly translates to “fitting a job to the person.”
Physical therapists are trained in ergonomics teaching as a means to help people with injury prevention and resolution. Both the tools used in your home or workplace (everything from your chair to your car to your computer to industry-specific machinery), as well as the way you use these tools are subject to study and modification. Your physical therapist can determine if these tools and your workplace requirements or home responsibilities are physically suited to you, and if not, what can be done about it.
Why are ergonomics so important in the workplace?
According to the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA), companies in the United States spend at least $170 billion annually on occupational injuries. Fortunately, OSHA also points out that businesses can reduce their injury and illness costs by up to 40% by implementing certain health and safety systems, including proper ergonomics training.
So, what kind of injuries are we talking about? The typical American employee may face any of the following musculoskeletal injuries, which are common in the workplace:
- Cervical strain and pain (including a new phenomenon called “text neck”)
- TMJ dysfunction and tension headaches
- Carpal tunnel syndrome (median nerve entrapment at the wrist)
- Tendonitis (inflammation in tendons)
- Rotator cuff strains and tears
- Medial or lateral epicondylitis (golfer’s or tennis elbow, respectively)
- Trigger finger
- Back pain caused by injuries to the muscles, joints, or discs
Of course, it’s not possible to completely eliminate one’s risk for sustaining one of the above injuries. However, it’s important to note that poor posture, excessive sedentary behavior, and improper workspace setup all contribute to the incidence of such conditions.
In other words, fixing your ergonomics at work can drastically decrease your risk of sustaining an injury that may cost you in terms of medical bills, lost wages, and decreased productivity!
Of course, ergonomics is not just for the workplace. In truth, everyone in your household needs to have a healthy awareness of good ergonomics in their daily lives, while doing everything from using their smartphone to driving to playing sports.
What should I expect during an ergonomics evaluation with my physical therapist?
Simply treating the signs and symptoms of an injury won’t necessarily prevent the injury from recurring again and again, at least not until the factors leading to the issue are identified and addressed. This is why an ergonomics evaluation is so critical for both symptom resolution and injury prevention.
Here’s what you can expect when you come to our physical therapy clinic for an assessment:
One of our physical therapists will thoroughly evaluate your body, your current and past medical history, and your home and/or work environment. We’ll ask you about the set-up of your desk or office, the type of tools and equipment you use, the expectations and demands of your job, and a summary of your typical day. While it’s great to see you in your actual environment, we can also simulate or recreate certain tasks or set-ups in order to get a clearer idea of the nature of your work and your general capacity for performing such work.
Based on all this information, we’ll be able to educate you on certain strategies that can help you manage your health better in your environment. When it comes to ergonomics, our focus is on improving posture, energy efficiency, and body mechanics (the way you move), as well as making necessary adjustments, modifications, and changes to reduce and prevent further pain and injury. We may recommend adjusting the position of your computer monitor, for example, or teach you how to implement a more frequent rest break policy so that you’re not sitting at your desk all day. We may also recommend specialized devices or equipment modifications, such as splints or wrist supports, that can help you perform your typical work duties with greater physical safety and comfort.
In addition to ergonomics training, we’ll likely provide you with other physical therapy services to address your symptoms, including therapeutic exercises, joint mobilizations, and modalities such as electrical stimulation or cryotherapy.