Practicing good body mechanics

By Dee Jepsen, Leah Schwinn, and Laura Akgerman

Spring and summer are busy times for farmers, gardeners, and landscapers. On a smaller scale, home-owners can experience the same fatigue that comes with long hours of yard work. Paying attention to how you do the work can help alleviate some of the aches and pains.

Good body mechanics are an essential part of decreasing your risk of injury and muscle fatigue and increasing your muscle stamina and productivity. The term body mechanics is a technical term to describe how the body moves through different positions throughout the day. Having proper body mechanics–or being mindful of moving your body in the optimal positions that it was designed for–helps to ensure decreased risk of injury and muscle fatigue. 

The spine is made up of stacked bones that form a natural S-shaped curve when viewed from the side. These curves are designed to absorb shock, maintain balance, allow flexibility of the body, and keep the joints and muscles around it strong. These curves are only maintained when the body is in good posture, with shoulders back, a dip in the lower back, and the head upright. With this good posture, and the spinal curves maintained, compression is evenly distributed. As the body begins to slouch, with the head falling forward, these curves disappear and the body is put in a position to be injured, risking strain on the muscles surrounding the spine. 

Work at appropriate heights

As a general rule, when sitting or standing, work should be done at elbow height 

This position keeps the head from having to bend too far forward and avoids bending at the waist, both of which can flatten the curves of the back. Elevate or lower a work bench, a gardening table, a computer monitor, or other workspace to accommodate this position. 

When seated at a desk or table, adjust the chair so it is as close as possible to the work zone. Rest elbows and arms on the chair, desk, or armrest to keep your shoulders relaxed. 

  • When standing up from the sitting position, move to the front of the seat. Stand up by straightening the legs when room is available. Avoid bending forward at the waist. Immediately stretch the back by doing 10 standing backbends.
  • Stand up and stretch every 30 minutes. Stretching is especially good after being in the tractor or mower seat for an extended amount of time.

Avoid stooping while doing your work. 

  • You can redesign the job to avoid stooping by attaching long handles to tools. 
  • You can also work on a stool or rolling chair. When sitting in a chair that rolls or a seat that pivots, do not twist at the waist while sitting. Instead, turn the whole body.

Practice proper bending and lifting

When bending or lifting, use safe lifting practices which support proper body mechanics. Bend at your knees or your hips rather than at the waist. And keep an even gaze in front of you rather than looking down while working.

  • When lifting, keep the loads between hand level and shoulder level. Avoid lifts from the floor or over shoulder level.
  • Put handles on containers whenever possible.
  • Redesign loads so they can be lifted close to the body.
  • When carrying objects more than a few feet, it is best to utilize dollies, pallet trucks, or utility carts. Use roller conveyors for bags or boxes of vegetables or fertilizers. This will reduce the amount of lifting.

Re-position your body as you work

Be sure you are changing positions and giving your body ‘movement breaks’ throughout your workday. Try to avoid sitting in the same position for more than 30 minutes. 

A good sign that it’s time to move or change positions is if you feel your body fatiguing or you are slouching from maintaining an upright posture. When you feel your body needs a break, be sure to stretch, take a walk, or do some quick exercises to get your body moving. The best jobs are ones that allow workers to do different types of work, changing from sitting, to standing, to walking, and back again.

Dee Jepsen, Professor, can be reached at jepsen.4@osu.edu; and Laura Akgerman, Disabilities Service Coordinator, can be reached at akgerman.4@osu.edu. Both authors work in the Agricultural Safety and Health Program and the Ohio AgrAbility program. Leah Schwinn, is an Occupational Therapist and educational consultant for AgrAbility. Additional acknowledgement to Kent McGuire, CFAES Safety Program Coordinator and Danielle Polland, a previous AgrAbility intern, for contributing to the content of this article. This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

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