There are so many “ergonomic” products available now. Could they all be truly ergonomic?
What does the word mean, anyway?
The purpose of ergonomics is to make tasks healthier for the body and prevent injury. Opening a jar can cause injury, as can writing for long periods or performing tasks with poor body alignment. My list of possibilities stops here because a continuation would occupy many pages.
Everyone’s requirements are different as to any accommodations they might find helpful. That’s why cars have seats that adjust into many configurations, steering wheels and rear view mirrors that move, sun visors, etc.
In the many “ergonomic” catalogs I have reviewed, only a small number of products offered are actually ergonomic. The hype factor is huge, and there is little regulation out there.
How can we tell which products are “real” and which aren’t?
When you think of ergonomic products as being meant to assist work, making it more comfortable and possible to sustain for longer periods, you can begin to sift through the maze.
One example I like to use is the way people’s arms turn when using a computer keyboard.
To get an idea of what I’m talking about, let’s try something.
First, let your arms relax at your sides, just hanging naturally from your shoulders.
Now bend your elbows so your forearms are parallel to the floor, like the letter “L.”
What happens next when you’re about to begin typing? Your hands move toward the center, right?
After that, you bend at the wrists so your hands/fingers will fit the keys.
Many people are fine, never experiencing numbness, tingling, or pain with a standard computer keyboard. For a significant number of others, though, these same two bends throw their upper bodies out of alignment enough to cause injury.
There are many styles of alternative keyboards available, some helpful, others not.
In my opinion, the fixed style of alternative keyboard is not the best possible alternative. The keys are split down the middle and moved to the sides, which is good. The left hand is angled more than the right, which is also helpful. But there’s a problem: the keyboard is still a solid, nonadjustable unit. So if you need more distance between your hands, for instance, you can’t get it with this design.
There is an alternative keyboard that I have used for over 5 years. Ever since the first day, I have never felt pain from typing again. The keyboard can be angled out from the middle or not, and the angle is easily adjustable. It also “tents,” that is, angles up toward the center, also adjustable.*
To type on this keyboard, once you have bent your elbows and made the “L” shape mentioned above, that’s it! Your hands and arms are a perfect fit for the keyboard as you have adjusted it.
That is a useful ergonomic product.
A word of caution concerning a gel pad to rest your wrists on. Don’t do it! You don’t need a gel pad. Resting your wrists on ANYTHING while typing still cuts off your circulation. That also includes chair arms, leaning on elbows, and resting wrists on the edge of the desk.
It’s not that I’m trying to be unpleasant ~ I know from experience that it’s just not worth it. Injuries will take 6 months or more out of your life, and some injuries can be permanent.
Another major cause of injury comes from gripping. And gripping while pinching is even riskier.
Old style can openers provide a great example of an uncomfortable grip.
Everyone has used the cheap chrome-colored type of can opener. You know, the kind that’s hard to hook onto the can, and then you have to scrunch up your hand because the handles are skinny ~ and uncomfortable, pinching your other hand together in order to turn the inconvenient handle.
There is an ergonomic model that is easily available. The one I’m referring to is made by OXO Good Grips (www.oxo.com). It has large, comfortable, soft handles, hooks onto the can easily, and has a big handle that is easy to turn. It rates “ergonomic” status because it eliminates hand cramps! You can actually use your hands immediately after opening a can!
Other products from various companies with helpful features:
- pens with “fat” barrels and cushioned grips (opens up hand ~ more relaxed)
- mixing bowls with handles (no more pinching fingers together to hold onto the side)
- adjustable jar openers (one type features an extension that makes a handle, providing leverage ~ there are so many other types!)
- clothing with oversized zipper pulls or large buttons
- big-button phones (again, no pinched fingers)
- calculators with adjustable, tilting LCD screens (eliminates neck strain from bending over to read the screen) ~ big buttons also help
… to name a few. Are you getting the idea?
So, if a product would be helpful, it’s worth a try. What I do for assessment purposes is walk through the task in question first. What is required physically? Is it stressful? How would this product’s design make a difference?
Going to the company’s web site will tell you whether they look like the Dollar Store or they are ergonomically aware.
If I’m still not sure, I’ll go to a store and try what they have. It is instantly obvious when you try the design you already use first, then an ergo one. If the ergo design is worth it, you will feel an immediate absence of tension.
One day on Twitter, someone posted a link to an “ERGONOMIC PHONE!” When I clicked on the link, the phone looked quite attractive ~ worthy of the Museum of Modern Art. But then I thought about it. What made this phone ergonomic?
I didn’t think it was. Why? You still have to pick up the phone and hold it to your ear. That is an awkward position, especially if you’re on hold for a while or engaged in a lengthy conversation.
A better solution would be a head set or a speaker phone.
So much for the “ergo” label.
Time for a story.
My favorite aunt and uncle, who lived in South Carolina, both needed some assistance as they got older. My aunt had painful rheumatoid arthritis.
Shortly after I incurred repetitive strain injuries, I had been looking at catalogs of ergonomic products. (As I said before, some of the products included were useful, the rest hype.) After I had sifted through the items’ descriptions and made some tentative decisions, I gave my aunt a call.
So there I was, describing products to her over the phone. Whenever I would mention a product, her response would be, “Already have a reacher.” “Yes ~ I’ve had door handle attachments for years.” And on and on like that.
After a few minutes, I got to a product I really thought she’d love.
Me: “Here’s a knife that’s balanced so your shoulder and back come into play. The handle is vertical, in the center of the blade. So it’s easier to slice bread.”
My aunt: “I buy my bread sliced, dear!”
Have you acquired any ergonomic products? Pens with fatter grips than the stick pens you find at work? Or maybe a kitchen whisk with a fat handle?
Tell me what you do to enhance your comfort and stamina with everyday tasks. Please comment below!
*The Human Solution is a reputable company with an informative web site. The company employs physiologists who evaluate all the products they sell. Among the web site’s features are a work station setup tool and reliable information about ergonomic products.