“What is your typical desk height at work?” Questions like this may be difficult to answer, but for Aimee Knecht, DPT ’18, these questions are critical for preventing workplace injuries.
Knecht, a graduate of the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) Doctor of Physical Therapy Program (PT), volunteered to educate individuals about workplace ergonomics at the NBC Health and Fitness Expo earlier this year. Workplace ergonomics is the applied science of equipment and workplace design to maximize efficiency and decrease injury. There is increasing focus on ergonomics as Americans spend more time sitting at their desks. Common injuries related to poor sitting include lower back pain, carpal tunnel, and even tennis elbow.
The annual Health Expo was an opportunity for Knecht to educate hundreds of community members on ergonomics. “Not many people understand the impact their work environment and habits have on their life, especially in creating adverse effects for their body,” she said.
Knecht has created a quick 20-minute ergonomic questionnaire and screening tool to help in the process. The tool asks questions about the work environment to help identify potential issues and reduce risk of further injury. After reviewing the answers, Knecht can identify potential issues and discuss modifications. “I came up with this screen after looking at various studies and educational courses in order to narrow down the real key issues,” she said.
Knecht even came up with her own acronym to help her patients and others think about workplace considerations: FATES, which stands for foot, ankle, thighs, eye level and support. As a volunteer at the Health Expo, Knecht and her colleagues performed free ergonomic screens and handed out pamphlets about FATES.
Knecht traces her interest in workplace ergonomics to when she was a student in the GW DPT Program. “We had many classes where we were introduced to this topic, and I was able to work under a manual therapy clinical instructor that made ergonomic screens one of his primary interventions,” she recalled.
Kenneth Harwood, PT, PhD, director of research for the DPT Program and associate professor at SMHS, is happy that the issue resonated with Knecht. “At GW, many of the component skills are provided throughout our DPT program,” said Harwood.. “It is important to note that the student is not trained to be an ergonomist, but a PT with an awareness of the ergonomic processes can bring [new skills] to their practice.”
For Knecht it is about increasing awareness of the small details and positioning that make a difference in risk of injury and everyday pain for her patients.