Inspired living

The three ergonomic mistakes we all make


Credit: istock

Ergonomics refers to “the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment”, but what this really means is how we position ourselves for optimal comfort whilst undertaking daily tasks.

There are certain positions where excess load is placed upon muscles, ligaments, joints etc, which may lead to pain or discomfort if repeated, day in, day out.

Ergonomics aren’t just important when it comes to your desk at work. Driver’s seat positioning, dinner table height, proper lifting technique for taking the washing out or picking up the baby are all important when it comes to reducing our injury risk.

Whilst there are no “one size fits all” rules for everyone, because every body is different, there are some general guidelines to help you reduce the strain on your body whilst undertaking daily tasks.

So, what are the most common ergonomic mistakes?

Desk set up

Whether it’s boxes at work, babies at home or tractor tyres at bootcamp, a correct lifting technique can often prevent pain and injury.

An oldie, but a goodie. For those of us who work at desks, this is especially important as we spend most of our day sitting. Across the course of the day, muscles get tired and are less able to keep up sitting upright, and we end up slouching.

If we’re going to get our workspace to work for us, we want to avoid letting our devices encourage us to slouch when we don’t need to. For instance, laptops are shocking because they bring our hands away from our body and drag our head and neck down to look at the screen.

As a general rule, our elbows should be close to our body and bent at about 90 degrees (not stretched out, reaching for the keyboard!)

  • Eyes should be at the height of the screen, which should be about arm’s distance away from your face.
  • The mouse should be close to your body so that your arms can be nice and relaxed whilst using it!
  • To reduce low back pain whilst sitting, some people like to include a foot rest under their desk.

This diagram from Corporate Work Health Australia gives a great summary of what we should aim for with a desk set up.

Car seat set up

This is a similar scenario to desk set up. If you’re driving long hours each day, you want to be comfortable!

Across the course of the day, muscles get tired and are less able to keep up sitting upright, and we end up slouching.

A lot of people sit either too close, or too far away from the steering wheel. What I generally tell my patients is that they want to find a happy medium between grandma with her nose against the steering wheel, and the P plater wearing a hoodie and sunglasses with his arm completely outstretched to reach the wheel (usually listening to some variation of bad rap music).

You want your car seat to be almost upright, with a tiny lean backwards of a couple of degrees. When using your feet on the pedals, you shouldn’t need to bend at the hip to move your foot from accelerator to brake, and if you do, you’re too close.

  • Height wise, the top of the steering wheel should approximately line up with the middle of your chest.
  • When driving, aim for a “10 and 2” position for your hands on the wheel, as if you were holding on to a clock face.

Lifting technique

Whether it’s boxes at work, babies at home or tractor tyres at bootcamp, a correct lifting technique can often prevent pain and injury.

We all know the mantra “Lift with the knees, not with the back”, which, for the most part, is a good place to start.

When lifting relatively light things, such as washing baskets or babies, you won’t necessarily need to get down into a full squat. What is important however, is that you keep your arms close in to your body and not outstretched. For those of us with low back pain, bend slightly at the knees and hips on the way down, and then straighten both as you stand up – voila! Relatively neutral (straight) spine, whilst still getting all the way down.

Heavy lifting requires some thought.

  • To get into position, squat halfway down with back straight – bent at the hips and knees with bottom sticking out.
  • Position the object that you’re picking up close to your body, and once you’re ready, moderately contract your gluts (bottom muscles) and abdominals (tummy muscles). This should be a comfortable tightening of these muscles, not a full on squeeze.
  • From here, push your heels into the ground and propel yourself upwards using your hamstrings and gluts.

Thanks to Corporate Work Health Australia for their permission to use the images in this blog http://www.corporateworkhealth.com



Dr Claire Richardson loves what osteopathy offers her patients and how it can help people of all different ages and backgrounds. Claire treats a wide range of patients, from the young through to the elderly, including office workers, athletes, pregnant women and tradesmen. Claire enjoys treating all musculoskeletal ailments, from sports injuries to postural problems. She employs a wide variety of techniques in her treatment, including soft tissue massage, dry needling, and joint and muscle manipulation where appropriate. As part of her treatments, Claire advises on contributing lifestyle factors such as activity and diet which enables her patients to have an optimal and speedy recovery.