For chronic pain sufferers, using ergonomics at home and work can help with pain management, reducing or even alleviating some pain over time.
We think of ergonomics in relation to work tasks, particularly in reducing fatigue and soreness from sitting at a desk for long hours. But with chronic pain and pain management, our work situation may shift out of necessity – we may work less or not at all. So why would ergonomics still matter?
While this newer science has become associated with work, its original definition is “designing and arranging things so that people can use them easily and safely.” It’s not work-specific, as we’ve gotten in the habit of thinking, but rather it applies to everything we do, from working to sleeping to cooking.
This science strives to decrease repetitive motion and keep us from staying in one position for too long without a break. Its goal is to eliminate wear and tear on the body, reduce stress and increase energy.
Ergonomics is based on four basic concepts. Work them into any modifications you make for the best chances at pain reduction.
Pacing – Working (or moving) too quickly or too slowly can cause stress on the muscles and joints. Go at a pace that gives you time to recover between tasks.
Task variety – While you’re going about your day, vary tasks to reduce stress on the body. Repetition can be particularly harmful, causing or worsening issues like carpel tunnel syndrome.
Work breaks and rest breaks – These are two different things. The first is stopping work for a moment to stretch, rest or change position between tasks. If you’re watching TV on the couch, for example, stop every 15-20 minutes to stretch and shift your position. A rest break is where you stop a task for a period of time to let your body and mind refresh.
Training and education – Searching out information on the right way to work or live can help prevent pain and injury, and keep you up-to-date on improvements in the field.
In addition to the basics, there are products that can encourage better posture and decrease fatigue.
One of the most popular is the standing desk.
Studies are now showing that sitting for long hours may lead to illnesses like cancer and diabetes, and it’s well documented that it causes chronic pain in the neck, shoulders and hips.
An adjustable desk allows you adapt the desk to your height, so you can stand or sit while you work.
Speak up! Many employers will provide an adjustable desk, especially if there’s an ergonomics program in place at their company. If you’re not sure whether yours will, here are some tips on asking your boss for a standing desk.
Adjustable desks aren’t just for work – they can also be useful at home in rooms like the kitchen (making food prep easier) or in the garage as a substitute for a workbench.
Speaking of home, did you know that your furniture is one of the biggest pain-causing culprits? Let’s start with too-soft sofas and old mattresses.
Big, squishy couches look comfortable but cause you to slump, putting stress on your back and neck.
To encourage better posture help with pain management, use a lumbar pillow like this one from HoMedics. (A lumbar pillow is also a great solution for uncomfortable dining chairs and office chairs.)
And how old is your mattress? While most people keep a mattress for 15 or 20 years, it’s better to replace them at 10 years – and even a 7-year-old mattress isn’t providing you with the best sleep.
If a new one isn’t in the budget, you can help combat a sagging mattress by improving you sleeping posture. Pressure on the back and neck varies depending on your sleeping position.
Stomach sleeping is the worst; instead, sleep on your back or side to minimize chronic pain. And look for a neck pillow to help retain the neck curve. An added bonus? These can also help with sleep apnea.
So whether you’re at work or at home, consider modifying your actions with ergonomics. It helps make life easier and safer – and we can all use less pain and more energy.
PainPathways is the first, only and ultimate pain magazine. First published in spring 2008, PainPathways is the culmination of the vision of Richard L. Rauck, MD, to provide a shared resource for people living with and caring for others in pain. This quarterly resource not only provides in-depth information on current treatments, therapies and research studies but also connects people who live with pain, both personally and professionally.