Many of us are so focused on work, errands, making money and taking care of our everyday lives, that we neglect one fundamental necessity: our health. Without an optimally functioning body, we don't perform at optimum level and we leave ourselves vulnerable to injury and illness, thereby defeating the purpose of our hectic quest to "take care of things."
Ergonomics is an emerging field of technology that teaches people the study and practice of keeping our posture, breathing, bone structure and muscles functioning properly as we perform our daily work related tasks. Simply put, it is the study of how to work properly so that we do not overly tax our bodies and become injured on the job (be it at home or at the office). Wendy Young is founder of ErgoPro, Inc. and a Certified Ergonomics Specialist who is often hired to consult with employees of large companies to keep people healthy and productive on the job. In this interview she shares some insight into the field of Ergonomics, the amazing benefits of an Ergonomically sound workspace and how this is achieved. Wendy also sheds some light on how to be pro-active in taking care of our health, as opposed to being reactive and doing damage control with drugs and surgery. Whether or not you currently suffer from any chronic pain, everyone should read this interview!
PR.com (Jason Manheim): What is the origin of the word "Ergonomic?" Because a lot of people still don't really know what that word means, so they find it a little foreign to them.
Wendy Young: Ergo comes from the Latin root word, "work." Ergo means work, and "nomic" means "the study of." So basically, Ergonomics is the study of the laws of work. The study of the environment, and how we interact with it. The people in our environment, the stresses in our environment, the work that we're doing, the equipment that we have to interact with and the way our body has to interact with it.
PR.com: When did the concept of Ergonomics, as a field or as a practice, come about?
Wendy Young: The idea of Ergonomics has been around forever, but in the fifties, I know that there were very large Ergonomics manuals that were published, and they're like the bible of Ergonomics. There have been people since then who have also written some very large important textbooks about Ergonomics that are also widely used.
PR.com: Where are these textbooks used? Are they used in the medical community, among physical therapists?
Wendy Young: Generally, physical therapists, occupational therapists don't really study Ergonomics, per say. The people who study Ergonomics are going to be certain kinds of engineers, like industrial and human factors engineers. I don't even think that chiropractors study Ergonomics.
PR.com: Do Ergonomics and Chiropractics share anything in common?
Wendy Young: Chiropractors study the bio mechanics of the body as do ergonomists. I have many clients who go to the chiropractor when they hurt. They're always mentioning to me that their chiropractor is always telling them, "You need to do this in your environment. You need to look at your keyboard. You need to get a better chair." So we actually work together.
PR.com: The statistics of chronic back pain, chronic wrist problems, the pain medication, the surgeries just sort of doing damage control. Why do you think that the medical community isn't incorporating something such as Ergonomics? Why are they instead simply putting a band aid on it with either pain medication or surgery?
Wendy Young: Now we're opening up a whole can of worms. There is a place for medical I personally, I do not believe in prescription drugs for the most part. Again, there is certainly a place for it. I think that prescription [medications] actually harm our body and that herbs are more healing for the body. That's a whole other ballgame. I do talk about that stuff a little bit, but I'm also very, very aware that some people are just not sold on that idea. People have bought into that concept of your doctor can heal you and no one else can. It is a fear thing and it is a choice for people to make. But, in actuality, because of my holistic beliefs I believe in herbs and many, many other things to heal. From what I have seen over the years people can actually heal themselves without drugs. I realize that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the AMA (American Medical Association) and the drug companies work together. There's a lot of money in the research business, let's say. There's obviously a lot of money in the prescription business. If you actually heal people, then the medical industry is going to go down.
PR.com: I often think about that myself, because it's frightening to think about, but it's almost a conflict of interest for doctors to completely heal, cure or even prevent certain medical conditions. They would lose a ton of revenue.
Wendy Young: Yes, that's very scary!
PR.com: It's very scary because they're supposed to be our advocates and instead, you know, it is a business, and they are there to make money. It comes down to surgeries and medications. That's how they make their money.
Wendy Young: Many years ago, I was going to have surgery, and for some reason, the morning of surgery I just got this sick feeling inside and I called the doctor and I canceled it. They were not happy! They didn't even care to hear about why I felt this. They just didn't care about that, and that really made me think. Even before that, I had been told to take hormones. I took them for awhile, but it ended up creating a blood clot in my liver. I stopped taking it and the blood clot went away. That was in 1991, and that was really the beginning of, "I don't think I want to follow this 'normal' medical path."
PR.com: You kind of have to take it with a grain of salt, and be your own advocate.
Wendy Young: Yeah. And you have to listen to your body. You have to listen to your gut. What's your gut telling you to do?
PR.com: Now what about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which is one of the more common Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI) that people can get if they are working with incorrect postures, and not adhering to the rules of Ergonomics. A lot of people especially now with so much computer work, they develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. What exactly is happening to create this condition? And what exactly does the surgery do?
Wendy Young: First of all, I want to say that not all pain in Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Not all wrist pain is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. A lot of people think, "Oh my God! My wrist hurts. I have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome!" They might have the beginnings of it, but it might just be a warning sign. That's how Carpal Tunnel starts, warning signs. It's increased pressure on the median nerve. The median nerve is the nerve that runs through the carpal tunnel from the arm into the hand.
PR.com: What is the carpal tunnel?
Wendy Young: The carpal tunnel supplies blood, oxygen and nutrients
into the hand from the rest of the body. We need to breathe to live
and every part of our body needs the oxygen also. Each part of our body
needs the oxygen to live and to be able to function properly.
PR.com: What are some of the common work related tasks that put strain on the wrist? And what do you teach people to do to avoid this condition?
Wendy Young: Working in awkward postures and doing repetitive work such as typing and mouse clicking. Sometimes the problem is in the neck and pain is felt all the way down to the wrist. So it is really a whole body approach to reduce and eliminate the pain. Take rest breaks regularly throughout the day, make sure that your body is in a natural posture while working. By the way, pain can also be caused systemically. I had a client once who developed a lung disease and he was not getting enough oxygen down to his hands. One morning he woke up with one of his hands completely numb. It was diagnosed as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but the cause was the lung disease. I did have a habit of working many hours of overtime and this did not help. Sometimes women that are pregnant get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or overweight people get Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, because of fluid build up in the body.
PR.com: So it's really a blockage of oxygen?
Wendy Young: I don't know if it's necessarily only a blockage of oxygen, but it's also not enough movement in the body. The body's not moving enough. The body requires a lot to stay healthy. And we can't just sit all day. We were not meant to sit all day in static posture. We have to rest and breathe deeply and listen to our bodies.
PR.com: But the life that we've created on this planet is very driven by money and needing money to survive and be able to live. So people are finding themselves with no choice but to spend all day sitting down working to make the money that they need to live.
Wendy Young: The way I look at it is, first of all, everybody should be doing what they enjoy. Unfortunately, not everybody is. If we're not doing what we're enjoying, we have to figure out how to enjoy it or find something outside of work that will give us the enjoyment that we need to give us that relaxation and peace in our bodies. When we have peace in our mind, it gives us peace in our body. When we're at work, we have to find ways to make it a better and more comfortable environment. Create a more peaceful environment that makes you feel better.
PR.com: Like soft music, pictures of loved ones, a plant?
Wendy Young: Right, make it warm and fuzzy. Plus people spend 12 and 14 hours at work a day, which is ridiculous. Then they go home and they can't unwind. You have to have a good night sleep also, so you can come back to work the next day and be rested and productive.
PR.com: When you do one on one Ergonomics Consultations with someone in their work environment, you deal with them on a physical and emotional level, right?
Wendy Young: I deal with them mostly on a physical level and I pay attention to those openings that let me deal with them on an emotional level. Since we are in their place of work, I have to be very careful about what types of things I'm talking about. I've had people that didn't want me there.
PR.com: The employer?
Wendy Young: Well, an employer will hire me and they'll say, "Go talk to these 100 people or 500 people about their workspace." You now have, not one employer to talk to, but maybe 500 people. Each person is different. You don't really know what you're getting into when you walk into somebody's office. Some people are very close minded to anything that's holistic at all, and Ergonomics is a holistic idea. Most people are pretty cool about it. They'll say, "Oh, come on in, sit down. Let me show you what I know." Those are usually the people who are positive minded, they work out, they take breaks, and they drink water. They know about this idea. They may not have all of the Ergonomics correct, but they're open to it and willing to listen. And they always learn something new. I always learn something new as well. I learn something from everyone I talk to. The idea is that I take each person on an individual basis. I go in and I start talking to them about what works for them, what doesn't work for them, and that's how we're able to go forward. You have to figure out what their challenges are.
PR.com: So let's go back. Tell me exactly what causes Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, so people can avoid it...
Wendy Young: Even if you're sitting the right way with all the right equipment, you've got the perfect Ergonomic keyboard and chair adjusted properly? If you don't take breaks, if you don't breathe, if you don't stretch and rest, you're going to hurt. Everybody's different. I've talked to some people before and I say, "You do all this, so you must hurt." And they'll say, "No, I don't." I don't know if they do or not because I'm not them. All I know is that their risk goes up.
PR.com: What about the wrist?
Wendy Young: It depends on how your workstation is set up. If you're keyboard is too low or too high, you're probably going to be bending your wrist. An analogy I use that people understand is : "it's like a garden hose with water in it. If you bend [the hose], you stop the flow of water. And there's all that pressure inside. Plus you cannot water the flowers if the water flow has stopped. That's part of what is going on inside that causes this condition (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome). You pretty much reduce or stop the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients into your hand."
PR.com: So, the body is supposed to be in fluid motion and you're cutting that off. So, things aren't running through the body the way they are supposed to be.
Wendy Young: Correct.
PR.com: And when we exercise, is that the ultimate state of everything flowing the way it's supposed to?
Wendy Young: Exercise is so good for the body, because you are breathing! It's relaxing the body; you're changing the chemistry in the brain when you are exercising. In fact I suggest Yoga and Pilates because they both stretch the muscles and require deep breathing. Yoga relaxes me for sleep so I try to do that in the evening and Pilates in the morning. Movement, stretching and breathing creates relaxation in the body, for all parts of the body. The mind is clearer. You're more creative. You've got more oxygen in your head, so you can think more clearly and you are more productive. And probably the work that you're doing is going to be of better quality.
PR.com: You've said that it's important to use the largest possible muscles to perform a task. Explain that.
Wendy Young: A lot of people are using those raised computer mice at
their desk, which are bad. The reason they're bad is because you are
resting that very delicate wrist area on the wrist rest and the wrist
literally leans into it. This creates pressure and movement is impaired.
(It is like trying to get out of a chair that you have completely sunk
into!) Then when you want to move your mouse you are twisting the wrist
to move the mouse. What you really want to be doing is to move the full
arm. When you move the full arm, you are using the larger, stronger
muscle groups that can take absorb the repetitive movement easier. So,
get rid of those mouse wrist rests. Use a mouse pad that has a flat
gel area instead. Also when typing, be careful not to reach for keys.
Instead, glide your hands across the keyboard. Do not rest on the keyboard
wrist rest when typing because this also creates pressure and restricts
movement. The keyboard wrist rest is only meant for resting.
PR.com: Now take me through a simplified version of a step by step, one on one, Ergonomic Evaluation.
Wendy Young: I begin my talking a little bit about their lifestyle and their work tasks. I want to get a quick overview of what is going on? What do they do? Do they Exercise? Do they overwork? How do they feel? Do they have any pain? Just because I'm going to see somebody does not mean they have pain. I want to know if they are an overstressed kind of person with deadlines that they're always trying to meet. I try to get as much information as I can to get a general idea of how open they're going to be to Ergonomics.
All this time I am paying attention to their posture and how everything is set up in their office. We talk about their posture; stretching, breathing and resting can affect how they feel. We discuss what is going on that could be creating a higher risk of developing some sort of Repetitive Stress Injury. Sometimes it is obvious and sometimes not. Then we discuss the chair since it is the foundation of the entire workspace. The chair supports their entire body most of the day. And it starts with the floor. Are the feet flat on the floor?? You have to see if there's any way to accomplish that. Sometimes you have to raise the chair up and get a footrest. The idea is that you want something solid beneath the feet otherwise the legs are hanging from the chair and this is creating pressure on their thighs and reducing their circulation. Reducing circulation reduces oxygen and when there is a reduction of oxygen chances are there will be pain. So the legs will hurt. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to move in your chair and take rest breaks throughout the day to get the oxygen flowing. So we adjust the chair according to their needs. Then we look at the keyboard height with their shoulders in a relaxed position and make an adjustment if possible, when appropriate. Sometimes we are not able to adjust because of the type of furniture they have. They might have to purchase an adjustable arm with a tray that will allow for the mouse to be on the same level as the keyboard. We then look at their monitor height to make sure they are not bending their neck to see it. We look at organization, furniture layout, lighting and temperature. This is really quite an oversimplification because a regular evaluation can take 30 minutes and if there is a problem, it will take much longer. We talk about all these ergonomic guidelines in our ergonomic training classes so that people can learn to do this on their own. We really have a lot of fun as we learn together!
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