Have you ever stood at a kitchen counter or a workshop bench and found your back aching because you were stooped over too much? Do you always plop down on the same side of a couch and sit with your legs twisted a certain way? Does your neck get stiff watching TV either in your living room or bedroom? If you have answered Yes to any of these questions, there may be some simple changes your body is asking you to make for a physically friendlier setup in your house.
First, let’s take the countertops. The height of most countertops is 36”, which allows someone 5’6”-5’10” to stand and work comfortably. As with most standardized things, if your height isn’t standard, your body may suffer.
Making some simple adaptations can save your body some aches. For instance, if you are less than 5’2” you may find it easier to stand at your kitchen table instead of your counter space. Having a stepstool handy in the kitchen will help you reach in kitchen cupboards without overstretching. Don’t stand on a rolling or swivel chair to reach high places. We see injuries every year in people using this technique—they were in a hurry and used a chair at hand instead of a proper stepstool.
If you are taller than 6’2”, raising your work area will likely be helpful. Adding blocks under a workbench, and sitting when kitchen counters are too low will also prove helpful. While you’re standing to do a household task, take a minute for a quick posture check. Are your shoulders pulled up to your ears? Are you standing all hunched over? Those are signals to change your work area.
Now to the living room…notice how you are sitting. When you sit to watch TV, is the set positioned so you must turn your head? If you read at night, is your body contorted or do you lean on just one elbow so the light shines on your book? Over time, these contorted positions can lead to imbalances in your pelvis and shoulders. Take a few minutes to reposition the TV or yourself so you face the set without twisting. If your sofa is deep, place an extra cushion behind your back to prevent slouching. If you read in bed, get a reading light that clips to a headboard and make sure you support your back and head in an upright position.
Replace sitting areas that sag such that your knees are higher than your hips. This position encourages a slouched position that adds stress to discs of the low back. It also encourages a forward head and round shoulders. If your sitting area fosters a slanted position like a couch that is soft in the center, it will imbalance your sit bones and can throw your back and pelvis out of alignment. Even placing a piece of plywood under the cushions may help.
Some household tasks require bending at an odd angle and are less suited for people with back problems. An example is placing a roast or heavy pan in a conventional oven in which the oven door opens out and down. Pulling out the baking rack part way first and placing the pan on it, then pushing the rack in, can help lessen the strain on your back.
Loading and unloading a dishwasher is also often done at an awkward height. Take your time and support yourself with one hand while you bend over. The weight of your dishes is another thing you can change. Stoneware is much heavier than Corel. If you have shoulder problems or arthritis in your hands, stacking and reaching for dishes is much easier when dishes are light.
Last, look at the flow of foot traffic in your house. Does it remind you of an obstacle course? Making some simple changes by moving furniture around will lessen the chance of repeatedly bumping into things. Remove scatter rugs that can slide on tile or linoleum floors or curl up on the edges and cause tripping.
Sometimes your physical problems melt away when you adjust your regular surroundings, or, better, they don’t even happen!