Research Article
Issue Date: May/June 2005
Published Online: May 01, 2005
Updated: April 30, 2020
The Ergonomics of Caring for Children: An Exploratory Study
Author Affiliations
  • Martha J. Sanders, MA, MSOSH, OTR/L, is Assistant Professor, Occupational Therapy, Quinnipiac University, 275 Mt. Carmel Avenue, Hamden, Connecticut 06518;
  • Tim Morse, PhD, CPE, is Associate Professor, Ergonomic Technology Center of Connecticut, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, Connecticut
Article Information
Work and Industry / The Occupation of Caring for Children and Adults
Research Article   |   May 01, 2005
The Ergonomics of Caring for Children: An Exploratory Study
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, May/June 2005, Vol. 59, 285-295.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, May/June 2005, Vol. 59, 285-295.
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BACKGROUND. Caring for one’s children is among the most ubiquitous of occupations. However, few studies have examined the ergonomic risks involved in parents caring for children at home.

PURPOSE. The purpose of this study was to identify the frequency, type, and severity of musculoskeletal symptoms in parents of children less than 4 years old. The study further examined the factors that contribute to musculoskeletal pain in this sample.

METHODS. A convenience sample of 130 parents with children younger than 4 years old completed a seven-page survey that included questions related to the parents’ demographics, their musculoskeletal discomfort, their performance of child-care tasks with high biomechanical risks (such as carrying a child in a car seat), and parents’ perceived psychological strain related to caring for their children.

RESULTS. Ninety-two percent (92%) of the providers were mothers. Sixty-six percent (66%) of the sample reported the presence of musculoskeletal pain. The parts of the body most affected were the low back (48%), neck (17%), upper back (16%), and shoulders (11.5%). Factors associated with musculoskeletal pain were performing child-care tasks defined as having high biomechanical risks (p = .001), the perception that caring for children is highly demanding (p = .003), and performing hobbies less than 1 hour per week (p = .04). Parents’ working status, age, and participation in other daily activities were not significantly related to musculoskeletal discomfort.

CONCLUSION. This study demonstrates the high prevalence of musculoskeletal pain in parents of children under the age of 4 years. It underscores the association between physical and psychological factors in the development of musculoskeletal discomfort. It suggests the need for occupational therapy wellness programs that focus on preventing musculoskeletal discomfort and providing support for the parenting role.