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

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