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Does Good Ergonomics equal Good Posture?

Does Good Ergonomics equal Good Posture?

by Chris on February 8, 2010


Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s not that simple.

I’ve had a number of people come in for sessions lately with arm and wrist issues, mostly related to their work (computers, offices, food service, bodyworkers).  They all have questions about the tons of stuff out on the ‘net about how to do the best ergonomic set-up, what the best/newest/coolest gadget is that you simply must have and how it will transform your life.

As I’ve said to them, all of these things miss a fundamental point: if you don’t use your body well, you’re stuffed right from the beginning. You will simply trade one inefficient use pattern for another.  To put it another way: you’ll be moving the stress around your body, instead of dispensing with it altogether.

This is the reason that you start using a new gizmo, feel better…and then some number of days, weeks or months later you have a new problem.

I know that this doesn’t seem fair, and those of you who know me will understand that I find the “buy this and your life is all smiles and happiness” idea somewhat disingenuous.

I’m going to give you some bad news now  (don’t worry, I’ll give you some good news at the end):

You can’t buy some neat-o widget and expect it to fix you by itself. It doesn’t work that way, for three reasons:

  1. People are individuals. We all have our special quirks and habit patterns, accumulated over a lifetime.  Given that, a one-size-fits-all approach hasn’t worked, doesn’t work and won’t ever work, full stop.
  2. People are lazy. I’m a prime example.  We like to try and get the maximum benefit from the minimal amount of effort – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Unfortunately, what most people do is take that idea too far and sort of mentally (and physically) slump or lean on whatever they’re using to help their posture and expect the thing to do it for them.
  3. Shifting the unaltered movement pattern that’s causing your current difficulties with a cool widget won’t eliminate the tension you’re experiencing, although it will reduce it somewhat, to be sure.  But, the rest of the tension from the pattern will shift to another area of your body – and the cycle will start again.

In order to address the whole picture in a way that will actually solve the underlying issues instead of just pushing them from one spot to the other, I’m going to do a multi-part series on using yourself in combination with good ergonomics.  I’ll focus in on the office, since it seems to be on a lot of people’s minds (and wrists) – but I’ll make sure to draw examples from other areas so that you can see how the ideas apply globally.

But first, let’s take a minute to examine the formula I’ll be referring to during these posts.  Like my fitness formula, theLow Stress Body Formula is a tripod – a very stable and interdependent structure.   You must have all three pieces, or it falls apart.

Here’s the formula:

Individually adjusted ergonomics + good biomechanics + neutralizing accumulated tension = low stress levels and a happy body.

To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite satirists: there’s a lot to unpack in that statement.  Let’s take it step by step.

Individually adjusted ergonomics.

This means that you take the widget out of the box and then you make it fit YOU.  98% of the folks that I’ve worked with have this part of the formula on backward.  Here’s why: widgets – ALL widgets – are made to a statistical model of a human.  Here’s what you have to ask yourself: are you a statistic?  Of course, the answer is no, so why would you use it without making it fit you?  Just like adjusting the height of a bicycle seat, you’ve got to make it fit you before you use it.

We’ll talk more about how to fit things to you as we go along, but for now just remember that you are the center of your universe, as it were.  Stuff needs to fit you, not the other way around.

Good Biomechanics.

At its base, this means that:

  • you’re doing your best to maintain an alignment in your body so that it is exposed to the least amount of gravity’s pull;
  • that you’ve set up a base that is shaped to your movements;
  • that you’re letting the big muscles do the majority of the moving;
  • that your breathing is easy and natural (also a big statement);
  • and that the majority of the force traveling through your body travels along the bone lines (instead of bouncing around in your body like a pinball, causing varying amounts of havoc).

Neutralizing accumulated tension.

Stress happens.  It’s inescapable.  Doesn’t matter how well you use your body, what kind of goodies you have in your work/life/sports.  What does matter is what you do AFTER you do these activities.  NOT before.  You can do plenty to keep stress from accumulating or stay flexible – but unless you do something to decompress after you do your thing, you will experience the inevitable encroachment of tension, stress and pain (far faster than it normally happens, anyway).

OK, now, here’s the good news: none of these things are difficult.

Consistent application of the ideas I’m going to be presenting will give you GREAT results – and quickly.

And, most importantly, I’ll do my best to reduce it down to the simple and practical while we’re doing it, so that you can use it right away.

Finally, if you haven’t already, go read my post about chairs so that we can all start off on the same footing for the next post.

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