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MS, Ergonomics, And The Economy Of Movement

MS, Ergonomics, and the Economy of Movement

There is a popular meme often circulated about Multiple Sclerosis with regards to fatigue. It says something along the lines of “it takes a person with MS five times the amount of energy to do something that a non-MS person can do”. That’s a pretty fitting description of what it’s like for many of us that deal with MS-related fatigue. Another popular description you may have heard is the spoon theory, where spoons are used as a visual representation of the finite amount of energy someone with a chronic illness has in any given day. There are many ways people attempt to describe MS fatigue because it affects so much of the MS population (in fact, our MS in America Survey last year came back with an astounding number: 87% of respondents listed fatigue as a major issue). With so many people fighting fatigue, myself included, finding new ways to battle it is a common activity. I’ve gone so far in trying to battle my fatigue, that I’ve begun to look into the realm of ergonomics to help find an answer.

What is Ergonomics?

Ergonomics is an applied science that deals with designing and arranging things in the most effective manner. It normally refers to adjustments made in the workplace to make it safer and more efficient. For example, making sure a desk is the right height, so that a person isn’t straining their arms or necks while working, or even making sure that the lighting in a room is proper, so that people aren’t straining their eyes, or even changing the way someone holds a screwdriver to ensure that it is less taxing if you use it for an extended period of time. It’s a series of small changes, not only to equipment, but to the way people do work, that add up to more efficiency over time. It’s fascinating stuff that people spend their whole lives studying and applying to work environments.

Saving precious energy

While I’m not as concerned with a work environment, I suspect there are a lot of changes I could make around my own house that could have big impacts. Particularly when I read about the Principles of Motion Economy, which, while dealing primarily with work environments, still gave me the idea there are more efficient ways of doing even the simplest of things. Techniques that can help me save some of that precious energy (or spoons, if you like that analogy) I need. Even those two words, economy and movement, together started to give me ideas. They made me begin to think of all the things I do around the house and ways I could streamline them and make them more efficient.

Making small changes for a big impact

While a lot of this is an ongoing process for me, as I begin to study more ergonomic principles, I can tell you, that already, just keeping the phrase “economy of movement” in my mind as I go about a tough day has been helpful. It may sound silly, but I’ve started doing basic things like planning out my path to the bathroom and back (will I need anything from the kitchen any time soon, I’m going right past it, maybe I should stop there on the way back instead of making a separate trip later). I’ve looked at how I have things laid out in my shower (because that’s always an adventure) to make that process more efficient. I’ve begun to realize that there are a lot of small changes we can make in our daily environment and routines that can have a significant impact on our energy levels.

Being aware of the way I do things

So as I continue to research ergonomic principles and the potential impact they can have on our fatigue, I wanted to at least start the conversation here. I feel like I’ve already been able to help myself, simply by being more aware of the way I do things and the way certain objects are laid out around my house. I know there will always be days where my fatigue will win, no matter what I do, but there will definitely be days where maybe these little changes can add up and let me have a bit more fulfilling day then I would have normally had. Have you made any changes to your routine or house to help with your fatigue levels? If so, I’d love to hear about them!

Thanks for reading!

Devin

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • MoonShadow
    2 years ago

    I have a MS Plus another one in 1 million neurological disease. My doctor says that’s why I get super fatigued. There are some things I do to combat it. There are a lot of duplicate items in my house. I keep the cleaning supplies I need in each bathroom, and in the kitchen. I use paper towels for cleaning, for drying hands wherever there’s a sink, and often Use paper products for eating so they don’t have to wash them later. I keep items that I might want to use A use paper products for eating so they don’t have to wash them later. I keep items that I might want to near the normal places I sit. For example there’s a coffee cup with a couple of pens, some stickies, A few paperclips, envelopes and stamps in three places in my house. I use a walker, and do as other people have mentioned: think about where I’m going in the house, and take and leave things in various rooms as I go so that I don’t have to make multiple trips. I’m much more organized with meals, I make a big batch of something and then freeze it in meal sized packages. My fatigue is always worse in the evening, so fixing dinner is as easy as popping something in the microwave and making a salad or other veggie. I have also tried to minimize the number of tools/ pots, pans and utensils so that there’s just not so much to search through. The only problem is my husband always likes to buy stuff. The same thing happens with cleaning; I’m trying to get rid of things and keep surface is clear so it’s easy to dust, and my husband goes off for shopping and brings home stuff faster than I could get rid of it. I also have learned to listen to my body. This is probably the most important thing. If fatigue starts to hit I stop. If I continue working through the fatigue it doesn’t happen and then I’m tired for days. You may also need to set the punctuation, especially capitalization in this paragraph is very random. That is because I am not typing, I am using voice to text. It’s amazing how much energy it saves me. I think over the years I have built up a large number of things that help save energy, little things, like having no trash Container in every room. Like doing smaller loads of wash. The hardest thing was to learn to ask for help if I needed it. If something has rolled under the bed, it’s better to ask someone else to get it then for sure need to get down on the floor and then get back up. It’s amazing how much energy little things take.

  • Nancy W
    2 years ago

    Combine fatigue with cognitive issues and you can see how hard it is to accomplish everything. It would be great if I remembered to do everything as I move around my house, but it can be hard enough to remember why I went into a certain room, without thinking about all I want to do on the way to that room.

    That being said, I have gotten into the habit of focusing on everything I can do on a trip down the stairs. I live in a ranch with the laundry and some storage in the basement. If I am going down to do laundry, I take an inventory of what else I might need to bring up with me, like paper products, because I keep the big bulk items down there. My exercise bike is down there too. So, I make sure I do a load of laundry while I am exercising, to avoid extra trips.

    This gives me the idea. I wonder if I could make room upstairs for the bike and the bulk items? Hmmm.

  • stumblingbumbling
    2 years ago

    I like to tell people that I only get so many steps in a day. I have to use them wisely , no wasted trips, anywhere! when going to get something from another room I make a mental note of all desired items. I love cargo pants with large pockets, Just load them up with everything you might need i.e book, glass of water, fork (you never know ) but you get the idea.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you stumblingbumbling! I confess, I have often stuffed my cargo pockets (of shorts though, because pants make me too hot, any time of the year) with whatever I might need for the very same reason!

  • fnredmond1
    2 years ago

    Before my MS diagnosis in 2001, showering was not only a daily part of my grooming, it was also a way to relieve stress and even a way to re-invigorate myself after working, performing household chores, exercising or spending time outside on a warm summer day. After living with MS for 17 years, showering has become a chore that I must plan for and complete when I am not too fatigued.

    This is what I do BEFORE I take a shower to make sure that I maximize my energy DUrING and AFTER my shower:
    1. I get everything ready that I need both in the shower and after I am done. I make sure that my shampoo, soap, washcloth and razor are on the floor in front of the shower chair that I keep inside of the shower. I also make sure that my hand held shower head is at chair level. Doing these things reduces the energy that I must expend to use those items while showering.
    2. I also plug in the blow dryer and put any hair products on the sink prior to getting in the shower.
    3. I purchased a real terry cloth robe. I put that on as I step out of the shower. The terry cloth is very absorbent and I use it instead of a towel to dry off. I find that towel drying takes a lot of energy that I most likely don’t have after completing my shower. I want a hood on the next robe that I purchase so that I can place it on my head to help absorb the water. Again, I will save much need energy by not having to towel dry my hair, and it will help decrease any time spent blow drying my hair.

    Before MS, I never thought about having to make a plan to take a shower. But, now, I make sure that I have a plan for every shower that I take. Preparing all that I can prior to stepping into the shower helps me save on the energy that I need after I get out.

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you 1refkpt, I very much understand. Showering is a particular issue for me: https://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/the-unexpected-perils-of-showering/

  • Julie
    2 years ago

    Your shower plans sound a lot like mine! I think as far ahead as I can to make sure I’m not repeating steps as showering wears me out.

  • potter
    2 years ago

    I still try to clean the house myself, I do get help from my husband with vacuuming. One thing I do to save energy is spray the shower down with a cleaner and then scrub it with a brush on the end of a broom handle. Make sure it is one with a flexible head. Then I spray the soap off with the shower head while I wait for warm water. This way I am standing outside the shower not slipping around. When the water warms up I shower and rinse any nooks and crannies that were missed. I try to do something everyday, It may be a small task but it adds up over the week. I also have a couple of Roomba’s that we use to clean our tile and wood floors. They work on carpets but you still have to do a deep vacuum now and then. I also have some of those grasping poles you can reach items easier with in several rooms throughout the house. Any other tips that someone might have would be great. Potter

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks for sharing potter! Those sorts of measures are exactly what I’m talking about, little things that most people wouldn’t even think of, but we’ve adapted to save some effort and energy! As far as shower tips, I’ve been using a spray I found at the store that you spray in the shower right after you done. It has definitely helped and allowed me to have to do a deep clean much less than I normally would!

  • Shelley D.
    2 years ago

    Hello, Devin! Thank you for sharing your experiences, & being so open and real! I have had MS now for 24 years, & have gone full-time to a wheelchair in the past year. The stories on this site by those of you not new to this MonSter helped me more than anything! This article is no exception. I had an OT help me last year, & although I don’t know if she was technically in Ergonomics, what she did was that exactly! One example: She recommended I put a shower curtain up instead of the bi-fold doors in front of my washer/dryer cubby. What a difference that has made on my stress-energy levels! One more thing…I just read a great article on Therapeutic Recreation (Spring 2018 InforMS mag. Rocky Mtn. MS Center). So no more feeling guilty about all my “leisure time”. Keep up the great work, Devin!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks so much Shelley D.! I really appreciate that!

  • lcal
    2 years ago

    So ergonomics is part of Occupational therapist jobs. I just spoke with my sister who is an OT and she said some OT,s specialize in it
    with this said I need to swallow pride and take my sisters help

    Thanks again Devein

  • Loopyone
    2 years ago

    Always enjoy your articles. Fatigue is my main problem. Also, getting my home office ergonomically comfortable for me has been nearly impossible. I have tried so many things to make things better for myself so that I’m not aching within a couple of hours. Right now I have my laptop on a rolling table like they use in nursing homes, etc. I think it has helped some because I can adjust the height. I’d like to have a professional ergo person come to my house but I don’t know if someone like that exists 🙂

  • cmonteressi
    2 years ago

    I have a doctorate in human factors engineering a.k.a. ergonomics, how can I help you? I have redesigned my house with the knowledge I learned in your ergonomics and knowing multiple sclerosis challenges firsthand.

  • lcal
    2 years ago

    So ergonomics is part of Occupational therapist jobs. I just spoke with my sister who is an OT and she said some OT,s specialize in it
    with this said I need to swallow pride and take my sisters help

  • Julie
    2 years ago

    I have found that in 18 years, pride swallowing is the one thing that I constantly need to work on!

  • Devin Garlit moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thank you Loopyone! Having something with adjustable height sounds like a great idea. I know I’m someone who needs to constantly change positions in an attempt to get comfortable or just finding a position that feels right.

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