Ergo the Ergonomics

By Laura Gordon

From the first day at school your instructor encourages you to use good body positioning in massage and though there is a lot for the new student to learn those first few weeks, good body mechanics, ergonomics, is one of the top few elements that remains important throughout your career in massage therapy.

Perhaps delving into the topic might not only underscore the importance of ergonomics but reveal the vast scope and effects of it in our lives.

Ergonomics’ root word, ergon, means “work” and nomics is a derivation of oikos meaning “house” and nemein meaning “manage” Altogether you could say what you have in one word is “Management of the workspace.”

And so steps in OSHA: According to the United States Department of Labor: “Ergonomics is the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population. Effective and successful “fits” assure high productivity, avoidance of illness and injury risks, and increased satisfaction among the workforce.”

What has this got to do with massage therapy??? A lot. The science of ergonomics has two attributes. The first is biomechanics which basically looks at the action of physical force on the body and the interplay of muscles and gravity on bones and joints. An example for you, the massage therapist, would be keeping your knees bent, your pelvis tucked in, your back straight and your shoulders, arms and hands relaxed as you use give a massage.

Having training in and knowledge of kinesiology has become a major off shoot of ergonomics in the health field, and we’ll be looking at that more closely in a later blog. But for now, let’s look at the second attribute in this world of “body mechanics”.

The second attribute is the design of equipment and the workplace. All this interest in equipment and workplace came along due to World War II – how to move big, heavy, industrialized equipment around with as little injury to the movers as possible. After the war it was noted that proper ergonomics was good economics. Workers comp and lawsuits were minimalized when care was given to safety, to ergonomic safety, of workers. The creation of OSHA regulations gave a big boost to worker’s welfare when it came into existence in the early1970’s. As for us, massage therapists, our concern in this arena would be our table height and weight, if we’re going to be moving it around much – like going to event sights and such.

So that’s a snippet into the rather large field of ergonomics. I’ll be taking us on further treks into it in the days ahead but for now let’s take a survey, a body scan survey to see how we stand, literally. No groaning, this’ll be fun…ok, insightful:

1. With a ball point pen held in each of your loosely closed fists and your head bent down looking at the floor walk up to a full length mirror. Stop about two to three feet in front of the mirror and after you have placed both feet side by side look up at yourself in the mirror (for the record, keep a record of what you note in this exercise)

a. Does your head line up with your torso or does it tilt to one side?

b. Are your shoulders level? Or is one higher than the other?

c. Do both arms hang equally?

d. Do the pens in your hands point toward the mirror? Or are they pointing laterally? Medially?

e. Are your hips level left to right? Or is one higher than the other?
f. Are your knees facing forward or are they facing more medially or more laterally?
g. Your feet, now don’t shift them, what direction are they pointing? Straight ahead or are they laterally or medially rotated?

2. Next make an assessment of your physical body awareness by answering these questions:

a. How does your body feel at the start of the day?

b. How does it feel at the end of the day?

c. Is there one particular body part that is more tired than any other body part at the end of the day – i.e. your feet?

d. Are you experiencing muscle tightness and or pain on a regular basis during your day?

e. After a strenuous exertion do you experience limited range of motion, joint pain or muscle tightness?

f. Do you experience frequent headaches at particular times of the day?

Put your written observations to the side. We’ll be taking another look at this subject in my next several blogs. For now answer the questions for #2 in the comment area below.

Ergonomics Body Mechanics and Self Care for Bodyworkers
, 1st edition, Diane Redman & ArdathLunbeck, 2012

22 thoughts on “Ergo the Ergonomics”

  1. My body generally feels better at the beginning of the day than the end. My lower back tends to be worse by the end of the day, although it does not bother me much anymore. Yes, I notice various muscle problems on a regular basis, and after strenuous exertion I find I have some problems quite often. I do not usually have headaches, but I have let my body mechanics slip lately and my allergies have been horrible so I’ve been having them lately.

  2. Man I am crooked.. In the morning I am stiff n very sore. At the end of the day, I am exhausted and feel weak. My feet n lower legs feel the most tired at the end of day. My neck and back bother me the most consistently throughout the day. They feel like a burn and aching sensation. My lower back and siatic nerve either me after hard work. I suffer with headaches almost everyday, some become migraines. Anyone is welcome to practice massages on me or give me a professional one, as they do help me out tremendously.

  3. Well at the beginning of the day my body is kind of stiff. At the end of the day it is sore depending on if I work or not. I have low back pain on the regular. After long periods of walking. I have limited range of motion in my right hip.

  4. when i first wake up i have this weird pinch in my back and it kinda goes away after a while but my legs always fall asleep while I’m walking or doing something and i don’t know why that is but i have the worst posture that definitely isn’t making it better

  5. Wow! My body is not even. My right side is higher than my left. I never really noticed it until now. I normally feel energetic and my body rarely ever hurts in the morning but by the end of the day I’m experiencing lower back pain and my feet are killing me. My neck is my most consistent pain though. I can not seem to ever get relief.

    1. Now you know where your problems start. You can now start to correct the problem instead of the symptom

  6. Misty, get ready for some massage, I will practice on you. You sure sound like needing one. Anyway, for the last 3 years I’ve been stretching even before getting out of bed and it is wonderful, so I feel great every morning. I keep doing stretches every time I feel like and at the end of the day I am still going.My feet are the ones that suffer the most because I walk a lot during work. And having massage almost every day, especially reflexology this week, helps a lot. No headaches at all, well, sometimes.

  7. I experience headaches at the beginning of the day when I first get up. I also pop my neck when I tilt my head to the left side, but this feels good. Since I’ve been sitting in class and at home for long periods to do homework, I’ve noticed my left knee getting very stiff. When I go home I like to soak with some bath salts I made that combined Epsom salt and sea salt. I have some limit of motion due to surgeries I’ve had but I don’t notice any activities causing this.

  8. At the beginning of the day my body generally feels good. I am tall so I have always had a slouching problem so by the end of the day my back is tense and sore. I am working on my stances and posture so I can elevate this problem and my back will eventually feel good throughout the entire day. The massages I have received this week have also helped loosen up my back.

  9. I always feel stiff in the morning and muscles all drawn up. I do a few stretches before my feet hit the floor while still laying down. then when i get out of bed i do some toe touches and i am ready for the HOT shower. i continue my stretches in the shower. THEN I AM GOOD AS GOLD!

  10. when i first wake up my body tends to feel sore, but i contribute that mostly to the fact that i sleep on a friends couch for the time being. At the end of the day my muscles my be tired depending on how much activity i have had that day. Normally my back or shoulders are the first thing to hurt, but I’m working to improve my body mechanics. my back hurts almost constantly everyday even when i keep it straight. again i contribute this to my sleeping conditions. After working my muscles on an activity that needs a good amount of exertion i wouldn’t say i have joint or muscle pain so much as tiredness from working them. Often when my muscles are tired my limbs can feel like dead weights and the muscles with not want to move but are still capable of doing so. I don’t get a lot of headaches unless i drink caffeine, i try to drink non-caffeinated drinks because i have gone threw caffeine withdraws a few times more then i would have wanted.

  11. I really don’t have any soreness or muscle aches in the morning. But through out the day I do notice soreness or tenderness in my shoulder then when I go to Lab that night I really notice how tight they are. But I have to try the excerise with the full length mirror and ball point pens and tell you how that turns out.

  12. For the most part in the mornings I feel pretty good these days. Throughout my day usually I tend to do pretty well. Sometimes my right rhomboids and traps will bother me. I have a trigger point that has been there for awhile. Most evenings I do end up with a tension headache, and my neck muscles are very tense and painful. I also believe this is from old injury, and that is why I am very curious about craniosacrial therapy.

  13. My back usually bothers me at the end of the day. However I can say since I stated stretching before I go to bed I wake up alot better in the mornings. I do notice that one of my arms hangs down just a tad bit more than the other I sure this could be affcting my back in some ways.

  14. Well I realized that my head does lean to the right just a little bit and one of my shoulders is higher than the other. I knew before this blog that I had hip problems but did realize the were so visual. I believe that my body problems have a lot to do with being over weight. My goal is to loose the weight and then work on my bones and aligning them. I do wake up every morning in pain and though I have very little pain in my shoulders my lower back is what gives me the most trouble, sometimes I will bend over and get stuck because it feels like something is stabbing me, I don’t have a clue why but hopefully with loosing the weight It will go away.

  15. I’m using very achy feeling in the morning but I have noticed by doing stretches every morning before class or yoga then I have a MUCH better day and a lot less sore!! Since I am so short I have to absolutely make sure my body mechanics are on point every day or I WILL be hurting ten times more by the end of the day!

  16. You know I am actually pretty even in my body. After doing a few massages the only place that really hurts it the bottom of my left foot. I think thats where all my tension goes. My back doesn’t normally hurt because I really try to keep proper body mechanics. Before I started school I had pretty good body mechanics. But know I know the proper way to hold my body and it really makes a difference.

  17. My body tends to feel stiff and tight in the mornings when I wake. I feel that it depends on my activities the previous days as to have stiff I feel. I am often tired and stiff throughout the day. Most of my tightness is in my shoulders and thighs. At the end of the day, I feel a little less tight and stiff but I do stretch quite a bit throughout the day.

  18. I have lower back pain at night. I struggle with turning over at night, I have to move very slowly. I have tried the exersise with writing with pen, but due to tremors and being left handed (that is where they are prodominant) I have to use my right hand to keep my left hand steady. So I usually due homework bent over on the floor. I due use the computer to type alot of homework out but try to keep a correct posture when I find myself slumping over. I need to work more on relaxing when I give a massage and correct body mechanics. I feel my warrior stance is great, but the rest is lacking. I need to keep my shoulders relaxed, and arms and just have a great flow.

  19. At the beginning of the day, after I wake up< my body tends to feel a bit stiff and sore. This typically only lasts in the morning and gets better during the day. I usually feel really fine at the end of the day, depending on what I did during the day. My body typically gets wore out evenly. I do tend to have a lot of muscle tightness in my back, some days are worse than others. I don't really ever experience a limited range of motion, unless if my neck is giving me problems, then I have trouble turning my head. I don't get frequent headaches.

  20. I have noticed that for the past couple of weeks my back has been hurting so bad at night, to the point that the pain has waken me up in the middle of the night. I know that it from how I have been laying while I sleep. So at the beginning of this week I adjusted my pillow and aligned my spine so it was straight before I went to sleep and I also did some stretches and I felt and slept soooo much better. My back didn’t even bother me much the next day. It definately pays to take care of your body.

  21. My skeleton has been through alot with 6 or 7 car accident, I forget. Right now my shoulders are pretty even. My pelvis is always uneven because I have a shorter leg which throws just about everything else out of whack. I usually try to go see my chiropractor as often as possible and massages do help with my bones’ ability to move around more freely. I wake up differently every morning. It all just depends on certain factors.