Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Ergonomics of Parenting

     Lately, several clients have come in with pain issues that might be avoided with a review of their environmental influences. Usually these influencers are related to the work environment but home and family also play a role in ergonomics. Here's an article I wrote several years ago to address some of these issues.

      Ergonomics is the science of making improvements to your work space and daily tasks to more efficiently fit your body and routine.  Its goal is to prevent pain and injury.  How does ergonomics apply to parenting?  Many mothers and grand parents of young children sustain injuries from lifting and carrying them longer than they should.  Once a child starts walking they should be weaned from these behaviors as they can cause wrist, forearm, and shoulder injuries as well as lower back pain to the adult from their repetitive nature.  A better position to address a young child’s needs is getting down to their level by squatting, kneeling, or bending to eye level.  Holding their arm while speaking, hugging them, or sitting down and holding the child in your lap will meet their need for love and attention without increasing your own risk of injury.  The warning signs that can occur in your hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, neck, hips, or back include:
  • Numbness, burning, or tingling
  • Soreness, aching, or tenderness
  • Pain, throbbing, or swelling
  • Tightness or stiffness
  • Weakness or cold
      Using proper body mechanics when you do pick up a younger child will help prevent injury.  Bend your legs, keep your back straight, and then lift.  Position your body squarely in front up them and not off to the side swinging them up to your hip as many moms do.  This throws off your center of gravity and can hurt you.  Carrying your toddler on your hip often throws it out of alignment resulting in pain as well.  Varying positions frequently and switching hips is helpful.  As the child’s weight increases so does your risk of injury.  Putting your child in the car seat is another potential area for injury.  Keep the seat as close to your body as possible as you secure them; leaning out while carrying weight is much more of a load to the lower back.

      Another piece of the puzzle not often thought about in preventing pain and injury, is wearing shoes at home.  Many of us, here in Tucson, have hard surfaces we walk on in our homes such as tile, hardwood, or stained concrete.  Running around barefoot increases your potential for joint and lower back pain as the force from a hard surface with no give compresses the bones and vertebra.  A shoe or slipper offers arch support, shock absorption from the cushioned insole, and protection from the scorpions and spiders that live in the desert with us.  If you’re feeling lower back or hip pain think about these behaviors and how you can adjust to better prevent injury.  This not only makes for a healthier parent, it models safe behavior to your child as they learn and grow from watching you.