Not just at the office

Ergonomics also apply to home ... and life

Ergonomics also apply to home ... and life

August 14, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

When it comes to ergonomics, health officials say it's the seemingly innocuous activities - writing, chopping food, washing dishes and watching TV - that have the potential to create health nightmares.

"People are more concerned with completing the task, so (for) everyday things like writing, driving or writing a news story, even, people are not thinking about their posture and body position," said David Brandenburg, an ergonomist for the University of California, Los Angeles. "They are so engaged on getting somewhere or taking notes that they are putting their bodies in awkward positions."

Over time, that awkward body positioning can lead to serious muscular-skeletal injuries that require physical therapy or surgery, said Jeanni Moyer, program manager for occupational rehabilitation at Health@Work, a division of Washington County Hospital.

Key examples of less-considered repetitive tasks include:

· Driving with the steering wheel too high, or gripping the wheel tightly in reaction to the external stresses of driving (think traffic jams), can cause aches and pains over time, Brandenburg said.


· Reading in poor light usually means the reader will have to lurch or hunch over in order to better see the text, which over time will lead to discomfort, said occupational therapist assistant Kathy Mooney with Health@Work.


Again, Mooney said, slouching on the couch (or any chair for that matter) while watching TV promotes poor posture - which will lead to problems in the long run.

Kitchen work

Counter heights and sinks that are too high or too low cause strain, forcing a person to reach too high or too low in order to perform a task, Moyer said.

The solution is proper body mechanics, altering the activity in order to preempt future injury, Moyer said. She used blisters as an example.

"If you had a shoe rubbing up against your heel, you do something about it before you get a full on blister," she said.

Ergonomics - the science of creating safe and efficient environments for people - already has established a strong presence in the workplace. Health@Work offers ergonomic assessments to local businesses. Other groups have created their own in-house ergonomics specialists. Brandenburg, for example, specializes in computer workstation ergonomics for UCLA employees.

But less prominent is the impact of ergonomics outside the workplace, health officials said. A growing number of universities are offering graduate and undergraduate programs in ergonomics, many of which go beyond occupational issues, Brandenburg said.

Still, word about them has been slow to get out.

"I haven't heard much about them," Mooney said.

Health@Work has tried to raise awareness in the office and home, but the agency canceled workshops on at-home ergonomics issues due to lack of attendance, Moyer said.

Mooney and physical therapist assistant Lisa Allshouse have pamphlets and handouts to give to their patients for use at home.

"A little basic education (about) body mechanics goes a long way when people are trying to help themselves," Allshouse said.

Mooney and Allshouse offer a few tips:

Sit up straight.

Bad posture is the culprit in the majority of musculo-skeletal injuries, Mooney said. This advice is the best rule of thumb regardless of whether you're washing dishes, driving or loading a washer and dryer. One tip, Mooney said, is to prop one leg up on a stool or on the inside of a below-counter cabinet. "The bent leg forces you to keep your back straight," Mooney said.

Bend from the knees and hips.

Do not use your back to lift something from the floor, Allshouse said. The feet should be shoulder-width apart when you lift. Avoiding twisting is especially important for tasks such as filling up a washer and dryer.

Hold heavy items close to body.

The closer it is to the body, the less heavy it feels, Mooney said. When grocery shopping, distribute weight from bags equally on both sides and make multiple trips. Do not try to get it all at once, Allshouse said.

Ergonomics at work

For more information about ergonomics at work, contact Health@Work, the division of Washington County Hospital that addressed business-related health services, at 240-313-9910 or on the Web at

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