5 Ergonomic Mistakes You're Probably Making
You don't have to be an athlete to hurt your body. These everyday activities can leave you achy or injured
If you don’t know by now that poor ergonomics while sitting for long periods can lead to problems ranging from low back pain to carpal tunnel syndrome, then perhaps you’ve been hiding under a rock (or your desk).
Sitting isn’t the only way you can wreck your body, however. Other daily activities can be just as damaging. Most of the time, aches and pains are caused by poor posture, faulty ergonomics, incorrect movement patterns, muscle imbalances or a combo of any of these, says physical therapist David Reavy, founder of React Physical Therapy in Chicago.
Here are five common activities that often involve pain-producing ergonomic mistakes.
Picking up a small child
Repeatedly lifting and lugging 20 pounds or more can introduce a host of bodily aches. “When lifting and holding a child, parents often aren’t conscious of posture,” explains Reavy. “The movement of bending down pulls you forward, not allowing you to stabilize with your shoulder or lats, and over time will result in back pain.” Parents also tend to scoop up a little one by hooking their thumbs under the child’s armpits, which can strain the thumb joint and lead to painful inflammation of the tendons in the thumb and wrist known as De Quervain’s syndrome. It’s also typical to rest a child on one hip, putting extra weight on one side of the pelvis that can produce hip or back pain.
Physical fixes: Carry your child in a hands-free carrier whenever it’s convenient and as long as she fits in it properly. “If you rest your baby on your hip, switch sides frequently to avoid creating an imbalance,” advises Reavey. “To prevent De Quervain’s syndrome, lift your child with correct posture: shoulder blades pulled down and back and abdominals and gluteal muscles engaged. Hinge at your hips. This will take the pressure off of your thumbs and wrist while lifting.” Rather than scooping under the kid’s armpits with your thumb out like a hook, keep it firmly next to your other fingers.
Lugging a heavy tote
Whether it’s a diaper bag or an overstuffed briefcase, constantly carrying a hefty bag can take a serious toll on your neck and back. Loading one side of your body with weight pulls your alignment out of whack. Often, the shoulder you favor will pitch up toward your ear, creating tension in the muscles on that side.
Physical fixes: Watch your posture. Press both shoulders back and down to counter uneven scrunching. “Switch up the side you carry your bag on frequently,” Reavy says. “You could carry it on one side to work and on the other side when you come home, for example.” Even better, change to a backpack that allows you to evenly distribute your load.
Holding your phone down in front of you while you type encourages you to jut your head forward and crane your neck downward, putting undue strain on your neck and upper back.
Physical fixes: It will take some getting used to, but the best way to avoid neck and back strain from texting is by holding your phone up and in front of your face. Until you’re in the habit, you can alleviate neck soreness by taping together two tennis balls and lying on your back so the balls are positioned at the base of your skull, in the slightly concave areas behind your ears. Slowly tuck and tilt your chin down and up for 20 to 30 seconds, rest without moving for another 30 seconds, then repeat the tilting motion.
Driving a car
For many of the same reasons that bad posture wreaks havoc at a desk, poor ergonomics in the driver’s seat can cause hip, back, neck and shoulder injuries.
Physical fixes: Take a top-to-bottom approach at situating yourself behind the wheel. Adjust the seatback and headrest so you can lean back against it without bending your neck forward or back. “When driving, try to keep both legs straight, rather than bending the one you aren’t using to manage the pedals,” says Reavy. “Bending one leg creates an imbalance by shortening your hip flexor.” Adjust the seat height so you can see straight down the road to the horizon without tilting your head, and so that your hips are level with your knees — a wedge pillow might help if you can’t otherwise avoid your knees being at an acute angle.
Blow-drying your hair
Women tend to hike up their shoulders and slouch forward while drying their hair, says Reavy. Do it often enough and it can lead to painful shoulder impingement, where the rotator cuff muscles become strained or even torn.
Physical fixes: While styling your hair, try to stand up straight with your shoulder blades pushed back and down. Switch sides repeatedly so you don’t overuse one shoulder. And take breaks if your arms feel fatigued — you’re more likely to slip into bad habits when your muscles are tired.