What Are Ergonomics?
Ergonomics is the study and practice of improving the way people move and function throughout their daily life. Emphasis is placed on maximizing efficiency and safety through the use of specific body mechanics, and identifying how current body mechanics may be contributing to the injury.
Physical therapists are trained in ergonomics in order to help people with injury prevention and resolution. We take a look at daily postures and activities to create strategies to mitigate and relieve pain. For example, the way a person sits in a chair at a desk can be examined and modified in order to decrease pain and prevent injury.
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 common musculoskeletal injuries:
- 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)
- Trigger finger
- Back pain caused by injuries to the muscles, joints, or discs
Poor posture, excessive sedentary behavior, and improper workspace setup all contribute to the incidence of such conditions. However, correcting 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 sitting at a computer to carrying groceries to driving. Ergonomics is a useful tool in preventing injury and pain in all parts of life.
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 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.