One of the benefits of working for a big company is that they hire all kinds of professionals to help the company improve. In this case we had a visit from an Ergonomist. She held a workshop and then followed each of the attendees for half hour sessions to observe how we worked and to suggest improvements.
The workshop was a two hour lecture on the body and possible problems we might run into while working a physical job. Tendonitis, hernias, sciatica flare ups, and carpal tunnel syndrome among them. The point of the lecture being that we often don’t listen to our bodies, and move in very detrimental ways that lead to all of those aches and pains that can become long term problems. We often push ourselves too hard, put ourselves into awkward positions because we ” just need to get this one thing done”, and ignore aches and pains until it’s too late. We also give excuses as to why we might be sore, “oh I must have slept on it wrong” etc until we have entirely dismissed the proper source of the problem.
Now a lot of the solutions are answers you might think can be found through common sense. But if you had an ergonomist follow you for a period of time in the shop I bet you’d find you were guilty of some infractions! I tend to break the laws of good ergonomics often, which explains why I’m experiencing a lot of aches and pains. But I’ll share what I learned on the topic, and hopefully this can help!
Preventative Tips to less aches and pains :
-Keep your center of gravity in mind( ie. if you’re leaning forward, move your legs to support that action)
-Move with your whole body and not just your arms
-Keep your arms close to your body whenever possible to reduce exertion and straining your joints
-Grip with your whole hand and not just your fingertips
-Always point your body AND toes in the direction that you’re working
-Bend your knees while doing work that requires effort
-Take mini-breaks (15-20 seconds every now and then) during demanding work especially if the task has caused you pain in the past
-Let go of your tool often and change your hand positions often
-Whenever possible try to only bend your body in one direction at a time (ie. if you pick up a box on the floor and bend over and twist at the waist, that’s two directions)
-Actively double check your body position during a task and ask yourself if you’re in the most comfortable position
-Stretch before working, and at the very least stretch the body part you’ll be straining moments before you start a task.
-and finally assess whether there is another tool, technique, or angle to use, or another way to raise, lower, or clamp your workpiece so that it will be in a better position for your body.
Treatment tips for aches and pains:
-Number 1 is to listen to your body and at the first signs of strain try to work in another way that doesn’t cause the strain or pain to return. Once your body reaches a certain buildup of lactic acid in the muscles it can take up to 6 hours to release those toxins. Which is why when you attempt to return to a task that was hurting, you can endure it for shorter and shorter periods of time than the initial period that lead up to the pain.
-If you have tendonitis there is a band you can slip onto your forearm that gives your tendons support during strenuous activities (it’s important to only use it during strenuous activities because it doesn’t help tendonitis at any other times)
-If you sleep with your hand pressed against your face and experience wrist pain, you can buy special gloves that keep your wrists straight as you sleep.
-Use heat on knotted muscles to help them relax
-Use ice on tendons and joints to help reduce inflammation.
-Stretch the aching area to release toxins
-Rest the area and try to avoid using that body part even in every day life whenever possible(use a less dominant hand for instance)
Tug of war
Of the suggestions and tips above, I do follow some willingly and others seem to be a struggle to put in action.
At work there is a fitness instructor that visits daily at the beginning of each workday to put us through various stretches. This is on a volunteer basis, it is not mandatory, but really it should be. I found myself attending these stretching sessions about two months ago and have made efforts to go every day since. I’ve never thought much of stretching but I’ve found it really has helped.
Here are some common stretches for problem areas:
For the Back
For the neck
Another is to do slow semi circles with your head dipping low in the center and coming up to each shoulder, not forcing the neck, but relaxing it and feeling your vertebrae as you raise and lower your head in semi circles.
For the forearms
My points of contention…
So I stretch before work… but I certainly have a hard time remembering to stretch just before strenuous activities, it may take a while to make progress there.
Also some of the simple tips such as changing hand positions often, and taking mini breaks seem to elude me. It’s difficult to interrupt work flow but I’ll try to make it more of a priority.
Bending in more than one direction is also a problem spot right now. I forget to reposition my stance if I reach for something diagonal to me on the bench, so I lean forward and twist at the same time. I feel this will improve over time.
The ergonomist specifically mentioned that I tend to bend my head down to take a look at my progress and suggested I move my workpiece closer or bend my knees instead of straining my neck. This one will take a lot of time I think. It just seems quicker to bend my head down than to reposition my workpiece every time. But now I’m aware of it and I will try to improve this point over time.
Do you recognize yourself in any of the examples above? I certainly did. I even noticed that I don’t point my feet towards what I’m working on even in everyday circumstances. I need to improve on MANY things!
Happy woodworking, ’til next time.