What is Ergonomics?
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines ergonomics as the study of work1. It encompasses all aspects of a specific activity and includes both physical stressors and environmental factors.
Physical stressors include repetitive motions, vibrations, excessive force, or awkward positions that can increase strain on joints, muscles, nerves, tendons, and bones3. Environmental factors are circumstances such as indoor air quality, excessive noise, and improper lighting that can effect hearing, vision, and general health3.
Ergonomics is a science that attempts to “match the demands of the task with the capabilities of the person doing the task”to increase efficiency1,2. Typically, ergonomics is discussed within the workplace. Employers often provide chairs with lumbar support, large computer monitors, and proper office lighting to promote employee productivity. However, ergonomics can be applied to any task or chore. This includes all recreational activities!
Gardening and Ergonomics
Gardening is one of America’s favorite hobbies. According to the National Gardening Association, 42 million households grown their own food4! No matter what you grow, gardening is a great way to spend time outside in the fresh air. However, it requires a lot of standing, stooping, kneeling, bending, lifting, and crouching. Many of these positions, especially if held for a long period of time, increase physical stressors and result in unwanted aches and pains. Ouch! Here are some tips that will allow you to safely enjoy the gardening season.
1. Keep your back straight.
Use long handled tools or add extensions onto handles to decrease stress on your spine. Long handled tools should be as tall as you are to prevent unnecessary bending in your back2,5,6.
2. Bend from your knees and hips when lifting or pulling.
When lifting heavy objects be sure to keep your back straight. This will prevent unnecessary strain on your spine and will increase activation of your stronger leg muscles. Don’t forget to brace your abdominals prior to lifting2,5,6,7! Check out our blog post on proper lifting mechanics for more information.
3. Kneel on one knee at a time.
Kneeling on both knees increases the likelihood of rounding your back which causes excess strain and pain. Kneeling on one knee promotes a straighter spine. Be sure to use knee pads when kneeling to avoid knee problems2,7! If kneeling is too painful, regardless of the position, then try using elevated planters7.
4. Change positions frequently.
It is recommended that you change positions every 15-30 minutes to prevent fatigue and injury6. Take frequent rest breaks to stand, stretch, and hydrate. Switch hands often when pulling weeds or pruning. This prevents repetitive stress and overuse syndromes such as tendonitis. Most importantly, listen to your body. If you feel pain when working in the garden, then stop. Pain is your body’s way of telling you to take a break6,7.
5. Use lightweight tools with large, cushioned grips.
Small handles increase stress on wrists due to excessive movement. Over time, repetitive strain injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, may develop2. Properly fitted tools keep your wrist in neutral and utilize the strength and power from your shoulder, instead of your forearm7.
6. Warm up and cool down
Gardening is exercise! It’s important to treat your body just as you would when you go for a run or play in a soccer game. Do a quick 10 minute warm up prior to doing any yard work. Then, at the end of your gardening, cool down your body with light stretching to prevent stiffness and pain5,6,7.
- 1.US Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Ergonomics: The Study of Work. Available at: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3125.pdf. Accessed on May 10, 2016.
- 2. West Virginia University. Accessible Gardening: Garden Ergonomics. Available at: http://greenthumbs.cedwvu.org/factsheets/ergonomics.php. Accessed on May 10, 2016.
- 3.Oklahoma State University. Defining Ergonomics. Available at: https://ehs.okstate.edu/kopykit/ergo.htm. Accessed on May 10, 2016.
- 4. National Gardening Association. Food Gardening in the U.S at the Highest Levels in More Than a Decade According to New Reports by the National Gardening Association. Available at: http://garden.org/about/press/press.php?q=show&id=3819&pr=pr_nga. Accessed on May 10, 2016.
- 5. Rubinoff, S. 10 Tips for Gardening with a Bad Back. Available at: http://www.networx.com/article/10-tips-for-gardening-with-a-bad-back. Accessed on May 10, 2016.
- 6. Kelly, S. Safe Gardening Tips for Your Body. Available at: http://www.naturalwellnessgirl.com/2012/04/safe-gardening-tips-for-your-body/. Accessed on May 10, 2016.
- 7. American Physical Therapy Association. Handouts & Brochures for Patients. Gardening. Available at: http://www.apta.org/PRMarketing/Consumers/PatientHandouts/. Accessed on May 10, 2016.