Avoiding Injury Through Proper Ergonomics

 The American Occupational Therapy Association defines ergonomics as the science of designing a person's environment so that it promotes the highest level of function. Good ergonomics prevent injury and supports health, safety, and comfort. When awkward positions or motions are repeated over time, pain can develop. Think of the last time you put together a piece of furniture with an Allen Wrench and how much your fingers ached afterwards! Conditions such as lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) or carpal tunnel syndrome may occur. Tami Levengood, OTR/L, MSCS, an occupational therapist at Penn Therapy and Fitness University City shares some preventive techniques to enhance your daily routine at work and home.

Ergonomics is all about proper positioning and patterns of movement. When you repeat awkward motions, your body rebels. Some muscles may be over-stretched while others shorten. Ergonomics can be applied to any situation such as:

  • Computers
  • Gardening
  • Use of Tools
  • Lifting
  • Reaching

sSimple solutions exist. Avoid using the same muscles in the same way for long periods of time. If you are involved in a project that involves concentration, set a timer to remind you to stretch and change positions after 30 minutes.

Stretch in a pain-free range by incorporating these movements throughout the day:

  • Standing up and leaning back
  • Gentle neck turns from side to side or ear to shoulder
  • Lifting your arms over your head
  • Rolling your wrists
  • Standing and leaning right to left

Use of appropriate tools and a smart work station set up are also keys to ergonomics. Have you ever walked into a kitchen store  and looked at the wall of gadgets? While gadgets come in many sizes, any household tool with a large grip is better for your hands. Larger or fatter pens are also better for your joints. The larger the handle, the less force needed to grip it. Other things like using a food processor to cut up tomatoes, onions, and herbs to make salsa is a lot easier on your hands than using a knife to cut up the ingredients.

Desk jobs that require computer use are another prime area for ergonomics.  It’s important to position the arm rests, computer monitor height, and keyboard in places that enhance your joint positioning, including:

  • Wrists in a straight line, or neutral position, not bent up or down
  • Arms supported by the arm rests of the chair
  • Computer monitor straight in front of your face with your neck not bent up or down
  • Feet resting comfortably on the floor
  • Sitting back in the chair so you can lean against the seat back

Occupational therapists can help you to learn more efficient ways to move and how to set up your work or home spaces to promote healthy joints and minimize repetitive motions.

When treating a patient with ergonomic needs at Penn Therapy and Fitness University City, I create an individualized plan of care to address their pain and other symptoms. Working together, we look at photos of a person’s work station and recommend changes. Principles of ergonomics in everyday life are reviewed. A few sessions of occupational therapy to focus on ergonomics can help to improve comfort with every day activities and promote good habits in the future.

To learn more about ergonomic occupational therapy offered at Penn Therapy & Fitness locations across the Delaware Valley, click here.