Ergonomics, as defined by the International Ergonomics Association, “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.” In theory, the idea of working to intelligently adapt our tools and environments to create safer, more biomechanically friendly physical activity is a no-brainer. Many of us have jumped on the booming ergonomics bandwagon in our home and/or office workplaces, buying special chairs, standing desks, keyboards, mice, laptop bags, coffee mugs… you name it. In the music performance world, we are faced with many options to adapt our given instrument better to our bodies (shoulder rests, chin rests, neck straps, mouth pieces, modified instruments…). New parents are constantly bombarded with the state-of-the-art ergonomic baby gear (bottles, carriers, loungers, pacifiers, car seats, spoons…). Usage of the word “ergonomics” has become akin to “gluten free” in the food industry. There’s a lot of hype, but more often than not little science.
So are we letting these modified devices lull us into a false sense of security?
I talk to many people who are at first pleased with their newly purchased ergo goods, but they soon find that their old aches and pains creep back in. Why is that? One word… Awareness. While ergonomic gadgets can do a world of good for our bodies, we have a tendency to think that they will completely fix our problems without any effort on our part, besides maybe forking over a small fortune. Our reliance on the external to fix us or the hope placed in one singular solution is probably what got most of us in trouble in the first place.
If you are experiencing aches and pains from your work, don’t rush out to buy the latest and greatest ergonomic whatever just yet. Take a few days or even weeks to analyze why you feel the way you do. Let your attention be drawn to those parts of your body that are calling out for help: neck, wrists, shoulders, and low back are incredibly common. If you’re unsure of what you’re feeling, then consult some experts and do your own research. Realize that movement is almost always the best medicine. If you really feel that you need that special tool to make your life easier, by all means get it. But know that you are still responsible for how you feel. That ergonomic tool is just that… a tool. It can’t replace the work that you need to do for your body, which is be aware and adjust accordingly.