Ergonomics Also Known as Human Factors Term Paper

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Also known as human factors, ergonomics is "the scientific discipline that seeks to understand and improve human interactions with products, equipment, environments and systems," (Taylor & Francis 2009). Therefore, any study of ergonomics works within systems theory to design equipment and workspaces that promote human wellness. The study of physiology contributes to ergonomics, but management and policy issues are also central.

Ergonomic principles will differ from industry to industry and job position to job position. The factors affecting how a dentist works will be completely different from that which impacts a construction site worker or a forklift driver. Each industry will therefore need a research-based and comprehensive understanding of the unique physiological factors at work. Moreover, the equipment used in each job sector will impact ergonomics. Workplace design and of course, budgetary issues, will affect the decisions related to ergonomics.

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Among the most common manifestations of ergonomic problems include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, ulnar nerve entrapment, and neck tension syndromes. The similarities between these and other overuse disorders are explained in Chapter 8, table 8-8. Table 8-9 in the same book outlines the ergonomic factors associated with carrying heavy loads. Both tables offer a list of recommendations for how to alleviate pain and prevent problems. Ergonomics programs in the workplace should be based on scientific principles of physiology and engineering. These principles are in turn rooted in research, and can therefore inform public and organizational policy.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Ergonomics Also Known as Human Factors, Ergonomics Assignment

The purpose of this paper is to illuminate common causes of four main overuse disorders: carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, ulnar nerve entrapment, and neck tension syndromes. Illuminating common causes will pave the way towards an understanding of how overuse disorders can be prevented. Proper techniques of movement, body posture, and alignment will be discussed. Moreover, effective engineering and design promote ergonomics in the workplace. Based on the research are also recommendations for policy implementation.


I. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a nerve entrapment disorder: in this case, entrapment of the median nerve in the wrist. The most common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include "numbness, tingling, weakness, or muscle damage in the hand and fingers," (Zieve & Eltz 2010). According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2010), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, carpal tunnel syndrome "occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist." The carpal tunnel is a "a narrow, rigid passageway of ligament and bones at the base of the hand" that houses the median nerve (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke 2010). Any thickening or swelling of the tunnel may cause compression of the nerve, which leads to pain, weakness, numbness, and limited mobility in the wrist.

The most common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is "probably" typing on keyboards (Zieve & Eltz 2010). Theoretically, any worker who spends long hours typing is at risk for developing the disorder. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2010) claims, however, that congenital disposition accounts for nearly all cases of carpal tunnel syndrome and that "There is little clinical data to prove whether repetitive and forceful movements of the hand and wrist during work or leisure activities can cause carpal tunnel syndrome." Moreover, "A 2001 study by the Mayo Clinic found heavy computer use (up to 7 hours a day) did not increase a person's risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome," (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke 2010). According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2010), the highest risk for carpal tunnel syndrome development is not among computer workers but among assembly line workers including those in "manufacturing, sewing, finishing, cleaning, and meat, poultry, or fish packing." Professional musicians are also at risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome (Zieve & Eltz 2010).

Women are three times as likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome as men "perhaps because the carpal tunnel itself may be smaller in women than in men," (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke 2010). It is crucial to address the causal factors of carpal tunnel syndrome because average financial losses are estimated at $30,000 per injured worker (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke 2010). The most obvious treatment intervention is rest and exercise. Drugs and surgery may be indicated. In the workplace, the most effective interventions will be the use of specially designed equipment such as ergonomic keyboards and work spaces designed to minimize stress on the carpal tunnel.

II. Tendonitis

A more generalized condition than carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects only the median nerve, tendonitis refers to the inflammation of any tendon. Thus, tendonitis may occur in the shoulder, wrist, elbow, finger, thigh, knee, or heel. While carpal tunnel syndrome is a result of nerve compression, tendonitis is a result of tendon degeneration. Some but not all tendonitis is caused by inflammation.

Unlike carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis affects athletes more than any other group of individuals. The textbook table 8-8 shows that tendonitis is caused mainly by frequent motions, especially those involving the use of force. Because tendons lose their elasticity over time, age increases the risk of acquiring the disorder. Adults who do a lot of sports are the highest risk group for acquiring tendonitis.

Tendonitis can also occur in tandem with tenosynovitis. The synovium is a protective sheathe surrounding tendons, and it can also become inflamed. Thus, tendinopathies is a collective term used to describe all disorders related to overuse of tendons.

As with carpal tunnel syndrome, the best way to prevent and alleviate pain is to resist the activities that caused it in the first place. Rest from aggravating sports is one way to help the body heal. In the meantime, the individual can rely on painkillers to mask the symptoms.

III. Ulnar Nerve Entrapment

Another compression-related overuse disorder is ulnar nerve entrapment, which shares more in common with carpal tunnel syndrome than it does with tendonitis. Like carpal tunnel syndrome, ulnar nerve entrapment refers to the compression of a nerve: in this case, the ulnar nerve in the arm. The "funny bone" is part of the ulnar nerve, which runs "from under the collarbone and along the inside of the upper arm," (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 2007).

The area at which ulnar nerve entrapment is most likely to occur is behind the elbow. However, entrapment is also possible at the wrist, collarbone, and neck. Risk factors for developing ulnar nerve entrapment include the presence of cysts, bone spurs, swelling of the elbow joint, and prior elbow fractures (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 2007).

Because ulnar never entrapment can occur at the site of the wrist, it may resemble carpal tunnel syndrome. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (2007) points out: "Carpal tunnel syndrome has similar symptoms, but involves a different nerve (the median nerve). Carpal tunnel syndrome typically causes tingling in the thumb, index finger, and long finger." On the other hand, ulnar nerve entrapment is more likely to impact ring and little finger. Numbness and "falling asleep" sensations are the most common symptoms of entrapment.

IV. Neck Tension Syndrome

Wholly different from carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and ulnar nerve entrapment, neck tension syndromes are muscular in nature. The ultimate causes of neck tension syndrome include poor posture and especially holding a static posture. Symptoms include muscular fatigue and ache in the neck or upper back. Ancillary symptoms may manifest as headache, muscle spasms, and arm pain.

Desk jobs are culprits, as sitting for prolonged periods in unsupportive chairs, leaning forward to use a computer, and cradling handsets can all cause muscular tension and fatigue (Delta Ergonomics n.d.). Neck tension syndrome can be prevented by taking frequent breaks and stretching the neck area. Workers at risk for developing neck tension syndrome can also utilize effective chairs and ergonomically designed tables and workstations. To heal existing pain, heat can be applied to the affected area. Massage and stretching may also help, and anti-inflammatory drugs can be used if the pain is interfering with productivity.


Using a standard literature review, it is possible to create a list of preventative techniques and policy suggestions. These techniques and suggestions will reduce the prevalence of some the most common types of overuse disorders in the workplace. Bolstered by research, the list includes activities and stretches; suggestions for correct posture, and engineering and design elements.

Professional organizations including the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (2007), Delta Ergonomics (n.d.), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2010), and the National Institutes of Health offer suggestions for reducing instances of carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, ulnar nerve entrapment, and neck tension syndrome. These suggestions will be outlined according to specific job and industry applications. Thus, measures to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome among musicians will be different from the measures for preventing ulnar nerve entrapment in desk workers, which will also be unique from the techniques advised to athletes who have tendonitis.


Results are conveniently outlined in the following table.



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