I Work, Ergo I Hurt

It doesn't have to be this way: 12 products scientifically proven to ease your pain.

Peel Chair photograph by John B. Carnett

Peel Chair photograph by John B. Carnett

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.

LOWER BACK

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.

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.

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.
Price: $335.

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.

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.

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.

NECK AND SHOULDERS

What You Feel: Tightness on one or both sides of your upper spine.

Why You Feel It: Your 10- to 14-pound noggin is crushing your carotid artery and tiring your trapezius muscles. This reduces blood flow to the brain, causing a headache and burning eyes within an hour.

Solution: Keep your head up. Look for products that keep it in a neutral position-that is, with the bottom of your nose parallel to your desk.

This new display prevents eye, neck and shoulder strain, thanks to the special anti-glare coating and a fully adjustable flat screen. Just center the 20.1-inch screen in front of you and adjust the height so your eyes are in line with a point
2 to 3 inches below the top of the monitor casing. Price: $1,999.

Your laptop, with its fixed screen and keyboard, is pure ergo evil. This adjustable stand places the screen at a more comfortable height and even swivels 360 degrees for presentations. Price: $80.

HAND AND WRIST

What You Feel: Burning, tingling and numbness in your thumb and index fingers.

Why You Feel It: The bones and tendons in your wrist are sucker-punching the nerves leading to the fingers and the muscles at the base of the thumb. Bottom line: Carpal tunnel is a-comin'.

Solution: Keep your wrists as straight as possible (within 20 degrees) and constantly moving.

The Whale is a hand Barcalounger. Its slim contoured body includes a thumb and palm rest, encouraging neutral wrist, hand and finger positions. What's more, it expands from 6 to 7.5 inches so anyone can palm it perfectly. Price: $100.

Like shirts, this mouse comes in sizes from XS to XL (based on the distance from the tip of your index finger to the crease of your wrist). The five-button design spreads the work among all digits. Price: $90.

Pressure on the ulnar nerve inflicts pinkie and index finger numbness in 40 percent of all cyclists. A foam-gel pad on the outside of the grip relieves nerve pressure, and it is
also designed to maintain a neutral hand position. Price: $12 per pair.

2. DeWalt Cordless Impact Driver
DeWalt's newest drill-drivers are 35 percent shorter, 20 percent lighter and pack 244 percent more torque (a walloping 129 foot-pounds) than traditional cordless drills. This means less kickback to your wrist and more comfortable overhead work. Price: $229.

3. Victorinox SwissWerks Suitcase
A curved handle and telescoping grip allow you to roll it with your palm facing your body. Ergo-bonus: It's 30 percent lighter than other bags, says Swiss Army. Price: $219 to $279.