What is ergonomics?

The literal definition is derived from two Greek words; ergon, meaning work, and nomoi, meaning natural laws. The International Ergonomics Association has adopted this technical definition: ergonomic is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. Let’s keep things simple, in the name of simplicity; ergonomics makes things comfortable and efficient.

Why are ergonomics important for employers and employees?

Proper ergonomics can prevent injury and can make work related tasks easier and more enjoyable.  Good ergonomics decreases employee stress, absenteeism. It can also improve engagement at work.

Do you already use good ergonomics / body mechanics?

Are you confident about your posture while your mind is occupied with daily tasks or while hard at work? Below are some questions for you to judge your own ergonomic knowledge.

  1. What are the 4 essential techniques for lifting an object from the floor?
  2. What is the optimal sitting position for your computer workstation?
  3. What is the best way to get up from sitting position to avoid injury?
  4. When lying in bed, what can you do to make resting more efficient?

If you had difficulty answering these questions, you may need to brush up on your ergonomics and body mechanics to ensure you stay healthy and injury free.      For the answers to these common everyday activities continue to read below.

Avoid slouching in your seat. Sit up straight with good posture, feet flat on the floor, and hips positioned back in the chair. Avoid rounded shoulders and rounding your upper back. Try using a small towel roll in your lumbar spine to help assist with posture and improve support.  If watching TV or computer screen, make sure the screen is in front    of you, not off to the side or at an uncomfortable angle.


sit to stand
Sitting to standing:
Move toward the edge of the sitting surface until your buttocks is nearly off the edge. Bend the knees and draw your feet underneath you.  Keep your back straight and avoid bending forward and use the muscles in your legs to push you up into a standing position. Use your hands for extra support if needed.



Lifting objects from the floor:Lifting objects from the floor
This technique is useful for any sized object that requires you to go from standing to floor level and back to standing. Such as laundry basket, grocery bags, kids toys etc. Stand close to the object, squat down with the knees, keeping the back straight and firmly grasp the object. Tighten your stomach muscles by drawing your belly button in towards your spine, do not hold your breath.  Maintain as wide a base of support with your legs as comfortably allowed. Now stand straight up using the powerful leg muscles as the driving force all the while maintaining a straight back.

Sleeping / Bed Mobility:
You wouldn’t think ergonomics is applicable while sleeping or resting, but you’d be wrong. For people with injured or sore necks, try using a small towel roll under the cervical vertebrae, not the head. This will provide needed support for tired neck muscles.

sleepingWhen lying on your back, avoid prolonged periods where the legs are in full extension, use a pillow or 2 under the knees to provide support. This avoids extra pressure on the low back that is caused by the weight of extended legs.

While lying on your side it’s a good idea to maintain a neutral spine from head to hips. To do this you should have adequate head / neck support from a good pillow. Bend the knees and place another pillow between them to keep the top leg from drooping down and touching the other knee, this helps to keep the spine in straight alignment. If additional support id needed a small towel roll under the hips and just below the ribs can be used.

Lying on your stomach is a tricky situation. Avoid twisting the head to one side ( or the  other ) while lying on your stomach, this adds significant pressure to the cervical vertebrae and can cause serious issues. Using a pillow under your hips and folded arms makes stomach lying more ergonomic.


BMC Occupational and Physical Therapy: Occupation and Physical Therapy department specializes in more than ergonomics and body mechanics. Their rehabilitation services will not only get you back to optimal health, but will empower you with the knowledge and confidence to maintain your health and well being on your own. It is staffed with qualified and experienced therapists that are capable of meeting the specific and challenging demands for your health care needs. For more information on services and care provided at Boston Medical Center, click the link above or call 617-638-7869.  To set up an appointment for physical therapy see your primary care doctor for a referral.

BU/BMC Occupational Medicine: To request an Ergonomic Evaluation please contact BMC OEM Department at 617-638-8400 or the BU Safety office at 617-638-8830.

Online: – Lower Back Pain: Causes, Treatment, Prevention, Relief