6 Ergonomic Myths and the Realities That Employers Should Know

July 15th, 2021  by  Dr. Curt McGill, DPT – Doctor of Physical Therapy

Musculoskeletal (back and joint) pain is one of the top reasons employees call in sick (after the flu). Pain has a significant effect on productivity and healthcare costs in the workplace. The total cost to employers for back pain amounts to $34,600 per 100 employees annually. This includes both direct medical and disability claims, as well as indirect effects on the overall productivity of the organization.

These direct and indirect costs can be reduced with an appropriate ergonomics program to prevent back, neck, shoulder, and other joint pain from being an issue in the first place. Unfortunately, many employers see ergonomics as a line on a checklist when it should be part of a holistic wellness and prevention program for employees.

What is ergonomics? The United States Department of Labor Occupational Health & Safety Administration defines “ergonomics” as the science of designing the job to fit the worker rather than physically forcing the worker’s body to fit the job. In general, this is achieved through education and modification of individual work spaces.

With the shift to remote work during the pandemic, makeshift offices sprouted in living rooms and dining rooms across the country, resulting in 45% of employees experiencing back and joint pain, according to our Hinge Health WFH Survey Report.

As remote work becomes the new normal for many even post-pandemic, what should employers be aware of if they want to create an effective ergonomics program? Here are six common ergonomic myths employers should keep in mind.

Myth: Ergonomics is all about good posture and equipment

Reality: Ergonomics is much more than just prescribing equipment and good posture. A holistic look at an employee’s overall wellness and lifestyle is also important to prevent joint pain. For example, studies have shown that stress and diet affect joint pain. Do you offer stress management, perhaps with meditation apps or yoga? Do you offer nutrition and diet advice to address joint inflammation? These are programs to consider when designing an effective ergonomics program.

Myth: Ergonomic changes are expensive

Reality: As mentioned above, ergonomics is so much more than expensive equipment. One main component is education of workers on proper positioning and posture awareness. Several simple adjustments can be made at workstations that don’t involve purchasing expensive equipment, such as standing desks, for your employees. In addition, having employees get up and move or stretch throughout the day can do far more to minimize joint pain than any equipment. You could build in regular stretching reminders throughout the workday between meetings or shifts and encourage stretches before beginning each meeting.

Myth: One size fits all with ergonomics

Reality: A specific type of ergonomic modification that works for one individual won’t work for everyone. People’s bodies are a variety of shapes and sizes. An effective ergonomics program should recognize individual differences and adapt changes accordingly.

Myth: For office workers, perfect posture eliminates pain and discomfort

Reality: Everyone may not be able to achieve picture-perfect posture, or maintaining such posture could be extremely fatiguing. Each person needs to find the posture that works for them and the demands of their job. The best posture for them might be upright or slightly reclined. Regardless, the focus should be on changing positions frequently and getting up and moving.

Myth: Employees need ergonomic training only once

Reality: People change over time. Their job and lifestyle evolve. Successful ergonomic programs provide recurring education and training. Regular ergonomic checkups at least annually could help to ensure that your employees continue to work efficiently and safely.

Myth: Ergonomics will fix my employees’ back and joint pain

Reality: When employees complain of back and joint pain, often employers assume that sending over an ergonomics consultant to “fix” their desk setup will solve the problem. In fact, this is the time to refer them to a care program for their back, neck, shoulder, or other joint pain such as Hinge Health’s Digital Musculoskeletal Clinic. Our clinic offers both preventive programs by job type and virtual physical therapy paired with lifestyle and behavioral health coaches for acute, chronic and pre- and post-surgery rehab. Early preventive programs like these can help employees avoid expensive surgeries down the road.

To find out more about Hinge Health’s Digital Clinic for back and joint pain, request a demo today!

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Dr. Curt McGill, DPT
About the Author

Curt McGill is one of Hinge Health’s staff physical therapists. He is originally from South Carolina and earned his doctorate of physical therapy at Duke University. He has substantial experience implementing employer ergonomic programs and treating orthopedic, industrial, and work-related injuries. When he’s not working, he loves traveling, watching sports, and working out.

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