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The term “ergonomics” normally has a similar effect on people as the words “healthy lifestyle:” guilt and unattainability. It conjures the image of someone sitting stick straight at a desk or lifting a box like a robot. We hear about it, know we should follow it, and ultimately dismiss it due to inconvenience.

One of the main lessons I learned from treating hundreds of people with work-related injuries is that unless there is a very traumatic injury, it is normally repetitive stress which wrecks our bodies. Our bodies are designed for a variety of functions which are often not physically accommodated in most jobs. Arms are designed for manipulation during a variety of daily tasks, not for constant daily typing. Our legs are designed to alternate loads during walking, and not for prolonged standing or repetitive squatting in place. Our torso muscles and spine developed to hold us upright during walking, and prolonged sitting has known deleterious effects1.

When I started doing ergonomic evaluations, I would normally sound off about 10 ideal postures and mechanics to which people would politely nod and then forget about.

In knowing the importance of correct body mechanics and trying to make ergonomics accessible, I found two simple rules can help people decrease the risk of potential strains and sprains:

Keep frequently used items close to your body

The further away from your body an object is, the less efficient your muscles are and the risk of strain increases. Keep frequently used items “bent elbow” distance from your body. 

Change positions frequently

Our muscles fatigue when trying to hold us in place for prolonged periods. One way to break up this fatigue and allow some recovery time is to alternate positions.

If you can’t keep close items which you’re working with, and you must perform repetitive tasks for your job, then enlisting assistance is a good idea. An exoskeleton which passively assists during repetitive squatting, repetitive overhead lifting, and repetitive bending helps during those tasks when our body is vulnerable to injury.