Sunday, 11 May 2014

A pain in the back? By Jenny Harper

By Skoivuma (Own work) 
via Wikimedia Commons
I've suffered with neck, back and shoulder pains for years now. I blame table tennis.

Yes, really! I played like a demon from age about twelve until after I'd graduated from university. It's a really fast game and you repeat certain actions hundreds of times, often in quick succession. I used to play for hours a day as a teenager (mostly because the best place to go was the YMCA and I was usually the only girl there, tee hee).

Then computers came along and I was an early adopter. I wrote on an Apricot - one of those computers with a little monitor with a black screen and green writing. It had 128K of RAM and cost me £2,500 back in the early 1980s. Gulp. Oh, and it was attached to a daisywheel printer that whirred and clicked and took hours to print out anything much longer than a page. It gave me time to go and do some gardening or hang up the washing. Life was so much more civilised then!

Once Apple Macs came in, I started doing design work as well as writing. Designing on a computer requires many small, very controlled movements with the mouse and before too long I became aware of chronic pins and needles down my right arm. Then the back pain started.

Oh, that back pain! Anyone who has suffered will know what I mean. At its most extreme, you can't move, walk, sit or stand and as for getting dressed or even going to the loo... well, the less said the better.

I have to manage my back. I spend a lot of money on it. I see a chiropracter and a physio regularly. My back ties itself in knots that have to be pummelled out. I bought a hand-held massage machine that works on the knots in between massages, otherwise I'd be needing attention every other day and the cost would be prohibitive.

I've also paid a great deal of attention to my sitting habits and the way my computer is set up. When I use my laptop for writing, I set it on a box to bring it up to eye level, and I use a wireless keyboard and mouse so that they, too, are at the right level. I have a wedge shaped cushion to tilt my pelvis forward and another cushion at my back to give me support. I try to remember to stand up and stretch regularly.

But I know (and my physio knows) that after any intense period at the computer, I am going to get problems.

Do you get back pain from writing? And if you do, how do you deal with it?


  1. Oh, how I remember that green on black! And the eternity of printing...
    I suffered from a bad back for years but no longer - it was core strengthening exercises at the gym which seemed to do it for me.

  2. Good for you. You must show me those exercises sometime! Yes, it's a different world now, computer-wise! But my physio tells me she gets teenagers in now with neck and back problems - and thumbs!

  3. It's my neck and shoulders, Jenny! I still remember the first time when I was on deadline to finish a piece of wrok and I could actually feel the muscles in my neck and shoulders seizing up but couldn't do anything about it. I try not to ever have so much to do in such a short time so that I can stand up and stretch. I do Pilates now and that has helped a lot to - as Jennfier says - strengthen core muscles. When all else fails I have a wonderful physio.

  4. Mary, my neck and shoulders seize up at the first sign of stress now, not the last! Glad yours is under control.

  5. My right shoulder is the biggest problem I have and I'm sure it was ruined by the computer mouse - I just keep working through it and at least it doesn't get stiff. Now it's the left hip (don't think it's the lower back as I thought) and right foot I'm having to watch - trying to get exercise in between the sitting! I love my Tai Bo CD, even if I only do 15 minutes! And I dance at times. Would like to get back to swimming.

  6. Keep moving! Hope it's not arthritis? I have arthritis in my left knee, I just keep moving. Today my whole right arm has pins and needles, I think it was playing golf on Saturday wot done it. Aargh!

  7. Ouch. Makes me feel sore just reading this. So far I've been reasonably lucky re back and shoulder pain but I do know if I work at the computer too long it is my right shoulder that is going to give me problems (especially if working on spreadsheets, which again use lots of those small, precise mouse-movements). I definitely need to do more exercise...

  8. Take heed of those warnings, Gill! Though I have to say, if you insist on doing spreadsheets...

    Seriously, keep moving, keep stretching, don't sit for too long.

  9. Poor you with the back problem, Jenny......I feel for you because I see my husband in a lot of pain a lot of the time with a back problem - fall from a horse way back then. The chap who came to upgrade my computer system sat me down and got my screen at the right height for me, the chair, the keyboard in the right position - ergo-something or other. He said a cushion in the small of the back can help ease an ache if you just have to get some work done and can't afford too much time away. I'm feeling guilty now that I don't seem to have any problems in that the moment!

  10. Linda, back problems are the last thing you need - glad they are staying away at present.