You may be familiar with the term “ergonomics” from work, meaning you fit the task to the person rather than having the person strain into uncomfortable physical positions to accomplish their work. In an office setting, ergonomics involves your posture and the way you sit in your chair and use desk accessories such as your keyboard and mouse while at the computer. But once you leave your desk, daily life is full of ergonomically impactful situations, too.
Ergonomics is all about adapting and adjusting a space or environment so that a person can work more comfortably and productively. Whether you’re busy in the kitchen, taking care of kids, driving around town, or gardening in the yard, there are countless ways to reduce pain, avoid injury, and improve posture and alignment every day.
- Ergonomics in the Kitchen
Wherever you do the same tasks over and over again, there’s a risk for stress and strain on your body, which can lead to repetitive motion injuries. The kitchen is no exception. With plenty of repetitive tasks—unloading the dishwasher, chopping, mixing, stirring, cooking, washing—it’s no wonder chefs often suffer from foot, leg and back pain.
When chopping or prepping foods, watch your posture: Perform such tasks on a surface with a comfortable working height and bring the task close to your body to prevent muscle strains. What’s the right working height? It varies by individual, but generally, it’s about 5 inches lower than your elbow, so that your arms can be in a neutral position to work.
To make the kitchen more healthful for extended work, incorporate “bouncy” materials underfoot. That might mean upgrading to wood flooring or adding rubber or cork mats in front of frequently used areas like the counter, stove and sink.
Organizing tools, including Lazy Susans, shelf risers, and tiered racks, can maximize prime storage and prevent the unnecessary muscle strain of reaching to find tools and ingredients.
- Ergonomics in Childcare
A whopping 66% of caregivers report musculoskeletal pain, with the most impacted areas of the body being the neck, shoulders, upper back, and lower back. Ouch! New parents in particular face specific ergonomic challenges, including the common repetitive motion strains known as “burping wrist” (from the repeated patting of a baby’s back to produce a burp) and “mommy thumb” (pain on the edge of the hand near the thumb caused by holding the child in certain ways repeatedly).
To protect themselves from injury and pain, new parents should focus on maintaining a neutral wrist position, use a wrap or carrier for their child, and avoid lugging around the car seat.
Caregivers can also improve ergonomics by keeping the acronym BACK in mind when lifting kids, their toys, and safety accessories:
- Back straight
- Avoid twisting unnecessarily
- Close to body (regarding where to hold the weight when lifting a child or other heavy object)
- Keep a straight spine
- Ergonomics in the Garden
Getting your hands dirty in the garden is often touted as a prescription for healthy living. But crouching in the dirt while twisting and reaching for tools and nearby plants is also a recipe for injury if proper ergonomics aren’t employed.
Remember, gardening is exercise. To enjoy your time outdoors, warm up a bit with some movement and gentle stretching beforehand. Once you start, try to minimize reaching and bending. How? By using long-handled tools appropriate for the job and working below shoulder level whenever possible. Use both arms, and keep your work close to you.
When kneeling, use a kneepad. If getting down to ground level is cumbersome, you might consider building raised garden beds instead. Take frequent rest breaks, maintain neutral postures whenever possible, and listen to your body when it tells you it’s time to stop. Respecting your body’s limits today will mean more energy and enjoyment tomorrow.
- Ergonomics Behind the Wheel
Due to vehicle construction and design, the shape of your car’s driver’s seat may put pressure on certain parts of your legs and back. This contact can lead to pain or discomfort at pressure points and may affect blood flow to the legs and feet. Take the time to adjust your seat so that while in the driving position, your knees are as close to 90 degrees as possible, you can easily reach the steering wheel and pedals, and other controls are comfortably at hand. Remember to adjust side and rearview mirrors to match your new setup, too.
If you’re driving long distances, it’s a wise and ergonomic choice to take frequent breaks, ideally getting out to stretch, walk around, and give your body a break at least once every hour of a trip. Once you arrive, give your body a chance to adjust, get the blood flowing, and allow the muscles to re-engage. Stretching and moving around before trying to lift heavy items out of your vehicle will help prevent unintended stress or strain, allowing you to enjoy your destination and whatever adventures may follow.
Being ergonomically aware at work is a start, but incorporating ergonomic awareness at home and on the road home are sure ways to reduce pain and injuries, improve health, and enhance your life.