Category Archives: back pain
Those who have met me in person will know I’m of medium height, well-built, and with ample beard and paunch. Other features of my physique may not be have been so obvious, unless you have much more of an eye for it than I do.
One person who is more perceptive than most is my aunt, who observed of my teenage self that I had a very long back, and warned that I was likely to suffer from it in later life. She was right: I now have a long history of managing back pain. The corollary to that is short legs. Oh, and a large head. Not so far from the norm as to be an obvious feature like the beard and paunch, but still some way off the average.
But our society is built for average people. We have some consciousness of the needs of the obviously-different: we can see that tall people need more legroom, or that short people may need a hand reaching things. It’s less obvious that someone my size might struggle to fit into all our standard scenarios, yet it’s become increasingly obvious over the years. For example, I can’t sit in the back seat of most saloon cars (hatchbacks are fine) without having to bend the head over.
Much more recently I’ve come to the realisation that this may be one reason for my long-standing problem with sustained sitting down. Particularly in an office or dining chair (the kind of situation where you sit up). And in many other seats I need to bring the legs up under me to something like a lotus position to survive more than a few minutes without severe pain. Seats are made for that idealised average person, and don’t fit me. Which is why I do a lot of my work in other postures: at the treadmill desk, or lying down and using the laptop.
No such problem on a step or a rock: their size is much less tailored to that average person, and consequently less problematic. But that’s not so useful for work, or anything else involving sitting at the ‘puter.
Anyway, as I write I’m sitting in a new office chair I just bought. Sadly there’s nowhere I can go to a showroom and pick the ideal chair (Staples still exists locally but nowadays has a very meagre selection in-store), so I have to buy online, which makes it pot luck whether I get anything tolerable. This one is selected for its dimensions: it’s lower than average (which I need), and it also has a seat which, while reasonably wide, is less deep than most. So it’s at least physically possible for me to sit on it in a recommended posture with knees clear of the front of the seat and feet on the floor. I’m trying it, though alas with limited success: it’s going to take practice if I’m ever to make it!
Alas, the back of the chair is not so good. I think it’s for a shorter person than me. I just don’t fit.
Heard an interesting program on back pain on the beeb, featuring some apparently-novel clinic whose mission is to help sufferers cope and alleviate their pain. Most of what they were doing sounds very familiar from my own experience. But what they didn’t say was how ignorance amongst non-sufferers can lead to decisions that make things cripplingly much worse than they need be.
I’m interested in this because I have a history of back pain going back to my teens, and the long daily journey on a ghastly school bus. Maybe it’s because it came upon me so young that I’ve learned to manage it, so that nowadays I rarely suffer anything more than mild discomfort (though I am at risk when my posture is constrained, for example in a theatre seat, or anywhere my legroom is too badly blocked).
But dealing with back pain does have an impact on my lifestyle. Most importantly, it’s a (maybe even the) major reason why I work from home, having suffered badly in office environments at various times in the past. It also affects what I can wear (clothes and shoes cannot have tightness or pressure in certain places, and definitely no wristwatch), how and where I can sit or lie, etc.
On the plus side, some things I enjoy doing are positively helpful. Cycling is great, probably because of the muscles that get exercised. Carrying the right backpack helps, probably because it holds me to a good posture. When I worked in an office and suffered serious pain, these were sometimes the only reliefs that kept me going, though at worst even cycling was difficult.
There is a critically important point that the program did not make. We should have more public information, not just for sufferers themselves, but for people who hold power over them. The worst possible thing in an office is a bad chair, but almost as bad are most office desks, and above all those marketed as computer desks/workstations. That’s because they force the legs into unsuitable positions which cause rapid onset of serious pain. Best is to sit not at a desk but at a table with ample legroom under.
An office manager who insists on furniture conforming to institutional norms can basically drive a back pain sufferer out of a job. It’s happened to me, and I’m sure I’m not alone!
A lesser gripe is with those supermarkets whose trolleys have a coin-operated lock on the handle. I can’t push a Morrisons trolley, because the lock forces the right hand into a totally unsuitable place and buggers up my posture. Since Morrisons is now my only local big shop, this is a real inconvenience. I’ve tried complaining, but all to no avail: presumably there’s simply no appreciation that it might matter.
In other health news, my tennis elbow has mended to the point where it’s no longer a significant problem, just something I need to be aware of and avoid setting it off again. But I’m still using a mouse left-handed!
 Tuesday, but I fell asleep before blogging it.
 When I moved here, it was a Safeways, and the trolleys were not encumbered with those infernal locks.