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A Working Woman’s Guide to Wardrobe Ergonomics

Friday, January 02, 2009
By Anne Kramer

Professional women spend significant time and money cultivating a polished appearance for the workplace. But many of these women may not know that common wardrobe staples like handbags and high heels can actually place them at risk for injury. Thus women should keep ergonomics in mind before they even arrive at the office each morning.

Long Fingernails Increase Risk for RSI

An often-unnoticed ergonomic pitfall for women are long fingernails. Whether acrylic or natural, long fingernails may look great, but they can cause repetitive stress injuries (RSI), because they force the hands out of the proper typing posture.
  • Long nails force typing with the pads of the fingers, which puts more strain on the wrists and increases the risk for carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • Studies have shown that nails longer than 0.5 centimeters can compromise the neutral curled finger posture for typing, leading to excessive strain on the joints and muscles of the wrists and hands.
Choosing posture-friendly footwear

It is commonly known that wearing high heels can lead to problems like bunions and hammertoe, along with more serious injuries like shortening the Achilles tendon and even stress fractures. Beyond these injuries, wearing high heels actually alters a woman’s gait.

  • High heels shift a woman’s center of gravity, pushing it farther forward and causing an exaggerated curvature of the spine. This can lead to severe lower back pain.

  • When a woman walks down stairs in high heels, her weight is shifted forward from her heels to the front of her toes. This position is postural equivalent of a plane flying forward in the nose-dive position.

  • For longer walks, it is advisable to change into flats or sneakers. Flip flops are a poor alternative, because wearing them for extended periods can cause lower leg pain.
Balancing the Work Load

Women also often carry much more to and from the office on a daily basis. Not only might they tote home a briefcase or laptop bag, but they also have a handbag slung over the other shoulder.

  • Carrying heavy bags on the shoulders places extra pressure on the nerves and can result in pain in the neck, shoulders, and lower back.

  • Since women tend to carry their purses on the same shoulder every time, they are at risk for developing maladaptive posture; spinal misalignment may even develop.

  • Laptop bags are often the culprit of women’s back pains, since they tend to be heavy and cumbersome. It is important to choose the lightest bag possible.

  • It is useful to balance the load and carry only the bare essentials. If it is impossible to use a backpack or rolling bag, switching shoulders frequently will reduce the likelihood of injury.
Although women’s fashion puts professional women at risk for injuries, applying ergonomics to wardrobe and appearance choices significantly reduces this risk. Making informed choices about details like nail length, shoes, and handbags can prevent injuries from back aches to carpal tunnel syndrome.

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