To Go Ergonomic, Or Not?

The first “ergonomic” device I can recall purchasing was the Evoluent Ergonomic Mouse.  I had struggled for months with a nagging tendonitis in my wrist, and figured there was nothing to lose in trying out a vertical mouse.  The results were mixed, but I do believe that switching to a vertical mouse helped heal my injury.  Paired with stretching, icing and other tools to prevent tendonitis, I was able to get my wrist pain to a point that it was manageable.

The Evoluent was ahead of its time and became a classic that inspired dozens of other vertical mouse designs, many of which we have detailed in our guide to the best ergonomic mice.  It is based on science and an understanding of the biomechanics of the wrist.  In short, it’s not a product created by a bunch of pseudo-doctors for late-night tv infomercials.

Recently, however, I’ve encountered more and more ergonomic products that look like this:

Hamster wheel desk

The hamster wheel desk – dubious value.

Yeah, this guy literally built a hamster wheel to replace his desk.  Does this thing work?  Maybe.  Is it ridiculous?  Yes.

I mean, yes… moving around in the workplace is really, really important.  And, yes… working in a hamster wheel does accomplish that goal.  However, the hamster wheel is more “show than go” as they say.

Hamster-wheel-guy reflects what I believe to be an increasingly worrisome trend among ergonomic devices on the market.  In essence, we’re focusing too much on goofy appearances and things that we believe will work, and not enough on science, biomechanics and clinical studies to guide what does work.  I am worried that we are becoming snake oil salesmen.

Here are some guidelines to make sure that your ergonomic-oriented purchases will provide real value.

Does this device address a specific pain point?

As one might expect, a reasonable starting point might be to consider whether your purchase is addressing your specific needs.  Don’t just evaluate the device on a superficial level (i.e. I have wrist pain and this device “helps” wrist pain).  Instead, try to evaluate the device in terms of the biomechanical patterns that it targets.  For instance:

  • Is my injury caused by repetitive stress to a particular muscle or tendon?  If so, does this device encourage a wider variety of movement patterns for that extremity?
  • Is my injury caused by a pressure point in my existing furniture with regard to a specific muscle group or joint?  If so, does this device do a better job of distributing pressure outside of that muscle group or joint?
  • Is my injury caused by a lack of movement in my lower torso?  If so, does this device encourage me to get up or move my legs more?

Hopefully the answer to one of these questions is “yes.”  If the answer is “no,” then there is no point in wasting your money.  Instead, find a device that is tailored more specifically to your pain points (literally!).

Does this device “make sense”?

There are a bunch of laser hair-removal caps on the market.  These caps address a specific pain point in hair loss, but the likelihood that shooting a bunch of lasers into your scalp is going to magically give you a full head of hair is essentially zero (sorry guys!).

Similarly, you want to make sure you’re buying an ergonomic device that will actually address your ailment. For instance, if you’re suffering from an RSI injury, seek out a device that will reduce the number of times that you go through the particular movement pattern that is causing you grief.

In practice, this may mean diving into various medical studies or looking closely at anatomy charts.  Just a small bit of background research may help you avoid dropping a bunch of cash on a device that provides dubious benefits.

Does this device accomplish its goal in a minimalistic way?

Personally, I want a device that will get the job done and not much more.  Granted, some folks prefer a lot of bells and whistles, but, in practice, I’ve found  the bells and whistles to detract from the core functionality of many ergonomic products.

The xClubby Ergonomic Workstation

The xClubby Ergonomic Workstation — Ergonomics to Excess

Hamster guy is a perfect example of an ergonomic product gone extreme.  While his invention likely “works,” it is overkill for a problem that can be solved through taking periodic walks to the water cooler or, in the extreme, with a treadmill desk.  The hamster wheel is particularly egregious, but I’ve seen similar frills incorporated into ergonomic mice, standing desks, ergonomic chairs and other ergonomic devices.  Often these frills add quite a bit to the price tag, but not a whole lot to the functionality of the device.

With that said, if you prefer the hamster wheel approach, go for it!  But, do so with the understanding that you are essentially buying flashiness over substance.

Conclusion

The market for ergonomic devices is a real industry that provides real benefits to real people.  However, as with any medical or health related purchase, one must be careful to fully evaluate the claims made by ergonomic device manufacturers.  Unfortunately, marketing and frills can sometimes overwhelm the core substance of what these devices seek to accomplish, leaving consumers confused and without an understanding of what they are actually purchasing.  With some basic research, you can avoid these pitfalls, and make healthier, more informed buying decisions.

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