By Christine Dhein
We rely on our bodies to make jewelry. To keep our bodies in good working order for the long-term, it’s necessary to take care of them. This article will discuss ergonomics, posture, and stretching that can help to maintain our bodies for years to come. The guidelines that follow suggest ways to design or modify an existing workspace to minimize stress while performing daily tasks.
To maximize efficiency, set up workstations as illustrated below to keep movements within a comfortable range. Store the most frequently used tools within easy reach. Bodies are made up of hinges, and each one has a specific range of motion. Pushing a hinge further than it was designed to go, especially when combined with repetition and poor posture, can cause stress, strains, aches, and pain as well as a variety of musculoskeletal disorders, including carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.
Making jewelry can involve tasks that cause some level of body strain. To minimize stress, limit high-impact, repetitive jobs as well as those that involve vibration—such as forging or using a vibro-graver or reciprocating hammer—to 30 minutes or less. Then, change tasks to allow muscles to recover before beginning a similar activity. Regardless of impact level, it is best to change tasks and working postures frequently throughout the day. Alternating workstations allows jewelers to leave a job or task in process and return to finish it later without additional time for setup or cleanup.
When seated at a workstation, a jeweler should limit performing precision work tasks, such as sawing, to a maximum distance of up to 11 inches away. More general work tasks should be performed within a maximum distance of up to 16 inches.
Good posture is a form of fitness in which the muscles of the body support the skeleton in stable and efficient alignment. Most people are born with the ability to support the body in this natural alignment. But over time, gravity, lifestyle, habits, repetitive tasks, and injuries make it difficult for muscles to hold proper alignment. Poor posture puts pressure on the spine, reducing its natural ability to absorb shock. Constrictions of nerves, blood vessels, and breathing can reduce oxygen and nutrient flow to the muscles and cause fatigue, muscle aches, and pains. Good ergonomics support good posture. Here are some tips to help you improve your posture while in the shop.
Adjust your seat height so your feet rest flat on the floor with your thighs fully supported and your knees bent at 90 degrees. Proper seat height should avoid contact stress with the back of the knees, thighs, pelvis, or lower back. Ideally, select the most appropriate chair and adjust the seat height accordingly. Then adjust (lower or raise) your working surface to fit your chair. The ideal height for the bench top is the height of the jeweler’s breastbone. To change the height of the working surface, carefully cut the legs of a bench or table shorter, place risers under table legs, or find a work surface designed with a height adjustment mechanism. Use a footrest to support feet if they do not rest flat on the floor.
An ideal backrest provides adequate support to maintain the natural S-curve of the lumbar spine. Choose a backrest with an adjustable height and position it such that the outward curve of the lumbar support fits into the small of the back. For chairs without adequate lumbar support, use a removable back support or a small towel rolled to fit the curve of your lower back. Adjust the tilt between 90 and 110 degrees and lean back slightly while seated.
Resting your arms on a solid surface can prevent mid-back strain and offer stability and support during precision work. To add armrests, purchase pre-made models that slide onto the working surface, or make your own. Armrests should be soft, and positioned so that shoulders are relaxed when working and elbows stay close to the body. Armrests should not interfere with moving close to work. They can also be used while performing seated tasks at a standard table height.
All muscles of the body, including those required to support good posture, experience the greatest benefits from regular and consistent exercise. Areas of common concern for jewelers are the wrists, forearms, shoulders, neck, and eyes. Lower back and hip pain can be a result of too much time sitting. To help prevent muscle strain while working in your shop, start a stretching routine that targets the work areas where you feel tightness or discomfort. Before you start work everyday, warm up your body with neck rolls, shoulder rolls, wrist circles, and a chest stretch. Stretch within a comfortable range as you relax and breathe deeply.
It’s important to maintain a work routine that includes taking breaks to stretch at regular intervals. Jewelry techniques require a high level of concentration. Many jewelers enjoy their work, become absorbed, and do not notice time passing. This can make it difficult to remember to take breaks or change positions. Use a timer set at regular intervals as a reminder and select different exercises to complete during each break. At the end of the workday, use gentle stretches to release accumulated muscle tension.