6 Simple Tips for Ergonomics on a Shoestring Budget

Psychology Today published a great little article with some simple tips on how to make ergonomic improvements without emptying our wallets. Just like everything else in our lives, it is sometimes tempting to turn to technology to fix our problems, in attempt to avoid personal changes in behavior.

I would love to go out and purchase the latest ergonomic keyboards, mice, chairs and all kinds of other accessories. I know that a lot of science has gone into designing products that work better with our bodies. But at the same time, it is hard to justify spending a lot of money.

I think the main reason this is the case is because buying ergonomic office products is kind of like buying organic food. We have to spend more now, in order to get benefits later. It is natural to want to spend less money now, and not really worry about the future. This mindset has gotten humanity into problems before, and it will continue to do so.

On the other hand, spending a lot money will not necessarily fix all our problems. Making smart investments must be paired with actual changes in behavior. Buying organic chocolate cake or hunching over a $500 chair will not make you healthier.

While you ponder how to allocate your budget, consider these free or low cost ergonomic upgrades suggested by Osteopath Andrew Kirschner:

Maximize your space

If you spend the majority of your day sitting at a desk, make sure that the things you use frequently, such as the stapler or message pad, are within reach. Grabbing for objects can cause back contortions resulting in injury.

Level the field

One of the leading causes of back pain is craning your neck to look at a computer screen below your field of vision. This type of injury can be easily avoided by bringing your screen up to eye level. The cheapest and easiest way to accomplish this: “Prop up your monitor with a telephone book,” says Kirschner. “They’re free and widely available.”

Propped up laptop

Lumbarize your chair

If your office chair doesn’t offer you enough lumbar support, Kirschner suggests rolling up a small towel and placing it in the curve of your lower back. He cautions against using something too large. “The towel should just fill the gap between your back and the chair,” he says.

Get up and stretch

Sitting in one position for too long results in back and neck injuries. When your range of motion is restricted, it can cause muscle stiffness. Get up and stretch periodically. You don’t need to go into full Downward Facing Dog. Just raise your hands above your head or do a slight back bend every 20 to 40 minutes.

Don’t cradle the phone

The single most important preventive measure: don’t cradle your phone between your ear and shoulder,” says Kirschner. Sitting with the phone lodged in this position is the number one cause of back and neck injuries. Invest in a hands-free headset. Barring that, use the speakerphone.

Wear clothes that fit

Many men like to preserve the illusion that their waistline isn’t growing as quickly as their hairline is receding, says Kirschner. The result: They wear pants that simply don’t fit. As waistlines widen, their trousers start to drift farther and farther down the hips, causing a constriction of the sacroiliac joint. This impedes movement and can cause lasting damage.

Check out my post on the dangers of wearing tight pants

Let’s face it. It’s hard to find an off-the-rack jacket that fits well. As a result, many of us buy clothes that fit our midriffs, but pull tight across the shoulders. While you may not be conscious of it, a jacket that fits too snuggly across the shoulders can impede thoracic movement, exacerbating back pain, says Kirschner.

Kirschner surveyed 150 women in 2002, to find out if their bras were contributing to back pain. Measured against the guidelines provided by a fitting expert at a clothing manufacturer, he discovered that roughly 50 percent of the women were wearing the wrong size bra, and more than 70 percent were suffering from somatic dysfunction, a type of back pain across the back.

My post on ergonomic bra fitting

According to Kirschner, bags are the number one “accessory enemy” of the spine. An overloaded bag, habitually carried over one shoulder, can do lasting damage to your back.