Ergonomic Tips and Tricks

This is about to sound like an infomercial. Or maybe a doctor visit. Probably both. But first, here’s a little story: Despite the whole Lumerit no-debt pitch, I actually joined Unbound for a much simpler reason: my body was a mess. I couldn’t survive dorm life, and even the thought of studying for two hours a day at my own pace was daunting. (It hurt to lay down, to sit, and to stand. In many ways I felt like that dude from Green Eggs and Ham: “I would not, could not, in a box. I could not, would not, with a fox…”.) No matter what I did, studying caused me pain. Fast forward three and a half years, and my body’s still got its quirks. The difference is now I can manage them. Now, full disclosure, I’m far from being a certified professional. My only credentials are six years of trying to keep this body functioning, despite its best efforts to fall apart. I also have two doctors as parents. They may or may not have been a source of constant wisdom during my freakout sessions. And so, dear readers, may these tips and tricks help you as much as they helped me.

A) For Your Head and Neck:


1. Blue Light Glasses:


You may have heard of these already, or maybe not. Basically, they help block the blue light waves emitted from electronic screens which typically tire out your eyes and cause those slow-growing headaches we all love. While there is a range of products, including relatively cheap options you can get on Amazon, I have personally used and adored my glasses from Pixel Eyewear. Their styles are hip (if that’s a necessary quality), and you can even get prescription lenses. Whether you’re on your computer doing school, working, or even binging Netflix, I promise: they’ll help. I’m using them right now as I write this post…


2. Shaped Pillow:


This one might seem a little weird, but hear me out. We spend a lot of time sleeping. (Maybe not as much as we would like, but still...). The shape of your pillow affects your neck the rest of the time you’re awake. And while there isn’t a hard and fast rule here, if you’re having lots of trouble with aches, I’d consider testing out some contoured pillows. I personally bought one after my Capstone roommate (shout out to Krista) told me they helped her with migraines. So yeah. About two years later, my pillow is still going strong, and I don’t wake up wanting to call a massage therapist.


3. Mini Adjustable Desk:


I was in a coffee shop in my dad’s hometown when I first beheld this glorious invention. This dude just pulled it out of his backpack, clicked it into position, and got to work. I was mesmerized. Fortunately, my mom––the extrovert––dared to break the hipster, earbuds-in code and actually asked him what it was (while I melted under the table). He was so ecstatic about having discovered it that he didn’t mind explaining where he’d gotten from. It was the usual cornucopia: Amazon. I’m not gonna add a lot of detail here, except that having bought a couple of these (one which has doubled as an art stand), they can be tricky to fit in a standard backpack, so watch those dimensions and make sure to think about the size of your computer too!

B) For Your Back:

1. Yoga Ball:


Some people are obsessed with coconut oil, others apple cider vinegar. For me, it’s Yoga balls. Seriously, they’re amazing. (If anyone who ever saw a weird chick carrying one around Apex or Capstone a few years ago...that was me.) I’m thrilled to say my back is doing much better now, but I still use a yoga ball as my desk chair, exercise buddy, and Jedi levitation trick on video calls. Nothing’s more fun than bouncing without explanation… There are a few things I recommend though before making your yoga ball purchase: Choose the size based on your height: don’t be like me and go for the biggest one out there. Really. Once it’s blown up to where it’s firm, if it’s too big, you can roll off. And that isn’t fun––especially if you’ve got an audience. Avoid the ones with sand in them or that fit into a chair: These may seem appealing and even be marketed as helping with stabilization, but the purpose of a yoga ball is to keep your little back and stomach muscles moving––a.k.a. loose. So you want it to roll a bit. Not too far, obviously...

2. Stretch your hips––seriously:


Turns out tight hip flexors can cause back pain by themselves. Fantastic, right? The good news is this sort of thing is a relatively easy fix. Just get those earbuds in, count to thirty a few times, and you’ll improve your chances of a happy back. *See google or someone official at your gym for instructions on the best type of stretches.

C) For Your Hands

1. Separate Keyboard/Mouse (or trackpad):


If you’re like me, your hands and forearms take a beating. You pound away at your keyboard for school, maybe for work too, and then if you throw in an instrument, drawing, knitting, carving, or something else that demands your fingers work hard…believe it or not, those hours can add up. After enduring a three-year-long tendonitis in my writing hand, this issue hits closest to home for me. Purchasing a separate keyboard and mouse (with the help of the adjustable desk I mentioned before) helped me configure an ergonomic set up that wasn’t constrained by the height of the table or chair. (Yoga balls can be inflated and deflated, after all.). Also, it traveled relatively well for coffee shop ventures––not the Yoga ball, but the rest of it.


2. Pens instead of Pencils:


There’s a lot of personal preference when it comes to choosing a writing weapon, but if you tend to have tired out wrists and muscles, a gel pen can be amazingly effective for how simple it is. They offer crisp lines with less resistance than the best pencils can (sorry Pentel). And when it comes to giving your hands a break, lowering resistance is key.

D) For your Feet and Legs

1. Cooking mat:


If you choose to go the standing desk route, which can be an awesome way to give your back a break, you’ve got to think about your feet and knees. (I didn’t, and paid a price.). There are lots of types of cushioning mats available to buy, and you can absolutely go the ergonomic search route, but if you want another trick that might land you something in town, look around at a local restaurant supply for cooking mats. (Or even Bed Bath and Beyond.). Those tend to be incredible quality, and you might be able to find something in a lower price range.

2. Shoes:


One rule: there isn’t a set rule when it comes to feet.


I did the Dr. Scholls thing, high-arch inserts, super plush inserts...I bought new tennis shoes, tried hiking boots, moccasins...And you know what? I didn’t land anywhere in particular. Here’s the current shoe lineup: Tevas: since they’ve offered better cushioning and arch support than Chacos for my feet shape. Uggs: Current boots are entering year 8 and feeling fabulous. Danskos: I know they’re pricey, but man…they’ve amazing. I’ve found the ones with extra padding to be a lifesaver. Crocs: I know. They’re not a fashion statement. But you don’t have to make a fashion statement if you’re in the house or washing a sink full of dishes. The moral of the story: foot care > fashion. And sometimes: foot care = fashion. Those are the brands to cling to. Figure out what works for you.


E) A Few Random Things


If you’re in chronic pain, it might be worth seeing a physical therapist: It doesn’t mean you’re going to be stuck reporting there forever, and yes, there’s a chance the first person you go to won’t be helpful. Stick with it. Over the past three years, I’ve gone for: tendonitis in my wrist, back pain, and neck issues––the only catch is I went after years of pain for each issue. Don’t do that. The majority of the time I spent there was spent dealing with the scar tissue that had built from neglecting the injuries.

2. Strengthen Potential Problem Areas:


Maybe you have a regular exercise routine. Maybe it’s on your New Year’s Resolution list for 2019. Either way, can I make a suggestion? Make sure you incorporate a rhythm of exercises that strengthen: your neck, your torso (yeah for abs connecting to tons of other muscle groups), your back, and your forearms/wrists especially. If you tend to have issues with your knees, maybe add that on too. (You know your body better than anyone else.) The goal is not to be psycho or paranoid, but why not give those weak areas, prone to take a beating, a little extra strength? I’m always a fan of preventing issues rather than treating them.

3. Magnesium:


I promise this is the last thing, but I couldn’t not tell you guys about this game-changing supplement. You can take it in pill form, but it’s also in foods. From personal experience, it is a secret weapon when it comes to healing tendons, joints, and tight muscles. Maybe talk with your doctor if you’ve got other medical issues going on, but if you’re generally healthy, this shouldn’t cause any issues. (Unless you take too much, but I’ll let you guys look that up on your own…) So there it is. That’s pretty much everything I’ve learned over the past three years. Ergonomics is a really interesting topic because it’s never over. There are always new ideas surfacing and nifty inventions entering the market to keep our bodies working smoothly.

If anything, I hope this article just kickstarts your learning process and maybe will help you get that ornery back under a little more control. If you’ve got any other amazing ideas, be sure to let me know! Written by Sarah Shaw

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