Bringing Healthy Back in 2014

So, fun fact for 2014! I'm kissing my twenties goodbye this year. If that wasn't bad enough, I rode out the end of last year with a painful pinched nerve in my lower back that prohibited me from taking a position relative to sitting of any kind. I spend half of my life in this chair typing up stories and connecting online to the people and organizations that we partner with. (I spend the other half driving blissfully around town in the happy car of mine that makes me smile every morning when I get in it!)

But, I digress. Pinched nerves are not FUN or HAPPY. Thank goodness for my fiancĂ© who was by my side for a week of unending requests for hot packs and pain relievers. Seriously, thank you.  Now that I'm back on my feet and back in the saddle, I mean chair, let's make this a teachable moment. I must face the facts, and imagine that some of you will too; Health is not to be ignored. Even Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert is equating health with happiness in 2014.

After making a series of calls to cancel all plans and override my entire holiday social schedule, I found a commonality in my conversations that opened my eyes to back pain. It turns out almost everyone has had this happen to them, and NEVER in an opportune moment like mine where I had the luxury of spending some days comfortably in bed. Sometimes in the middle of a 12 hour nursing shift with lives dependent upon her, and other times in the bathroom stall hauling up panty hose just ahead of an important court hearing. 

It occurred to me that I mentioned some back pain to my doctor in the spring. Her response to my complaint was, "Take some advil." I think that was bad advice. Sorry, Doc. What she should have said, and what I gained from those stories supplied by friends and family, were great tips for preventative measures and constructive methods for preventing back pain and keeping my life productively in motion. 

I was stuck in the fetal position, a pillow between my legs for a few days before I could really think about gaining a range of motion. Once I did, I started by pulling my knees towards my chest. At first this was not really happening without a ton of pain, but eventually stretching felt good and I got my groove back.  Then I pulled my other leg towards my chest and then across. On the third day I stood and performed this task with my hand firmly hinged on a dining room chair.  I even made it up the stairs. But, I was still in a lot of pain so I did make an appointment with my doctor. (I recommend this as a first step, not a third, but I'm stubborn that way.)

She prescribed more of the same; "Get some rest, take some meds and keep stretching."

There's more to the story. Turns out there is a whole science to this having to do with the way you sit, what chair you use, what position you type in and what exercises you perform consistently. Let's start with the way you sit. 

There's a ton of info on ergonomic (equipment design) positioning. A quick google search opened up a whole new world to me:

Mainly -- pick a chair with lumbar support, occasionally adjust your position no matter how correct it is, and keep your wrists angled against the keyboard properly. The American Association for Orthopaedic Surgeons* describes a set of aches and pains associated with long periods of sitting and provides some great recommendations

Check out their insight on work stations: 

  1. Height of the desk at about elbow level when sitting down. 
  2. Have enough room below the work surface to comfortably fit your knees and thighs.
  3. Keep the height of the surface holding your keyboard and mouse or trackball about 1 to 2 inches above your thighs. Center the keyboard in front of your body.
  4. Many experts suggest that when you use a correctly positioned keyboard:
  • Your elbows stay near your body in an open angle allowing circulation to the lower arms and hands.
  • Your arms are nearly perpendicular to the floor.
  • Your wrists are nearly straight.

You may be more comfortable if you use your arm, not just your wrist, to move the mouse. Choose a mouse that fits the size of your hand comfortably and is as flat as possible to minimize wrist strain.

I just ordered my lumbar supportive desk chair and I can't wait to get it! 

Last, but not least -- the most important thing anyone can do to have a healthy back is core exercises. 

I picked yoga, but pelvic thrusts and calisthenics were among the recommendations I received. 

I think you'll love this beginner yoga program with two leading New Zealand men who seem to be very into fitness. Also they bring a new high to the diligent practice of yoga and will help you redefine the art of"turning your hip, pushing your weight and coming back to upright."

Breathe easy!

As always, seek a doctor's care whenever you are sick or in pain.

Recommendations provided by me, a self-admitted authority on nothing in particular.

Cheers to health and happiness in 2014! 

*There are two spellings for orthopedic/orthopaedic. We picked the British verison for our purposes here. It's more fun.

Opinions expressed in this article belong to the author. Always seek a doctor's care before you take anything including advice from someone who's not authorized on the subject of your physical wellbeing.