Alan Hedge has been studying what makes people uncomfortable for more than 25 years, but lately he's been a little sore. As director of Cornell's Human Factors Laboratory, he sums up the current state of ergo-nomics, the science of human-centered workplace design: "There's a lot of hogwash out there,"
he says. "It's not about having something feel different, it's about considering human anatomical, physiological and biomechanical characteristics as they relate to movement."
If you're like most Americans, you spend 75 percent of your day sitting in an office chair, keying your way toward 5 p.m. This alone can win you aches reserved for grandparents and linemen. As Hedge explains it, that's because most new product design doesn't specifically address how joints are built to move-specifically, within 20 degrees (plus 5 to minus 15 degrees) of their neutral position. Good ergonomics also minimizes joint forces and enlists larger muscle groups to shoulder much of the burden.
With Hedge's criteria firmly in mind, we set out to find the best examples of good ergonomic product design, focusing on the five areas most ripe for ergo-induced ache: back, neck, shoulders, hand and wrist. Each of the dozen products we uncovered is backed by science, and each gets Hedge's seal of approval.
What You Feel: Burning or stiffness in the lumbosacral region of your lower back, on both sides of your spine.
Why You Feel It: Your posture stinks. Hunching forward puts pressure on your spine and pushes lower back discs together.
Solution: Don't hunch during heavy lifting and maintain healthy seated posture-100- to 110-degree recline.
1. Giant Revive DX
The recumbent's cooler cousin, the full-suspension Revive is built around the rider. Multiposition lumbar support places the rider in a completely neutral position, with feet abnormally low for easy ground-to-bike transition. A similar model to the one shown here is available in the U.S. Price: $700.
2. Humanscale Saddle Seat
This saddle-shaped stool forces the lumbar region
of the spine into a healthier posture by rotating the pelvis forward. It also works as an ottoman to encourage a reclined posture at the office.
3. Humanscale Freedom Chair
The mechanical back support in this chair slides and shifts with your weight, acting as a second spine. The cushioning, dubbed TechnoGel, is a silicone-like substance typically used to cushion prosthetics. Price: $1,000.
4. Stokke Peel Chair
It's designed to keep you reclining and in perpetual motion. There are three recline positions, and no levers or force is required to switch-you simply shift your weight. The ottoman acts as a knee saver. Price: $2,100.
Biggs Corp. Ergo III Snow Plow Shovel
You expend the same amount of energy shoveling snow for an hour as you do running 9 miles. Your back takes the brunt of it. The Snow Plow's adjustable bent handle keeps you within 20 degrees of the upright neutral position through-out the shoveling motion, reducing lower back and shoulder strain. For other chores that deserve ergo-proofing, check out the Ergo III deck brush, adjustable rake and mop. Price: $30.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.