Geek Lifestyle is Painful, But I’m Turning it Around

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks recuperating from a back strain. I didn’t lift anything too heavy or perform any strenuous activities. I simply tried to stand up after spending a couple of hours working on my notebook on my couch. The simple act of standing brought me to my knees and I spent the next couple of days at home, shuffling around like an old man.

The pain continued until I was able to go to an acupuncturist who poked and prodded at my back with needles, fists, elbows and a wooden contraption that looks like a weapon of some kind. The first treatment was pretty painful and served as a big wakeup call.

My digital lifestyle is having some pretty serious adverse effects on my health. My cardio capacity is at an all time low, my posture is horrible and my I have various aches and pains that can be tracked back to sitting in front of a computer for hours on end. Apparently, I’m not alone. My acupuncturist told me that almost all of her and her partners’ (massage therapists and a chiropractor) clients sit at computers all day. She explained that sitting and repetitive motion is far worse for my health than back-breaking work. The years of hunching over a keyboard have caught up with me.

Instead of continuing down a path that would likely cause more serious health problems, I’ve decided to change a few things.

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To start, I’ve done a few things to improve my workspace. Part of the problem with being 6′ 4″ is that everything is too low, including my desk. I adjusted my desk’s legs and it’s now four inches taller than before, which means my hands are at a more natural position and I don’t have to hunch over to see my notebooks’ displays. I’m relying more on my external monitor, which is on an Ergotron wall mount that I’ve adjusted upwards as well.  I firmed up the settings on my Aeron chair, which I bought at a dot-com fire sale back in 2001.

I’m also trying to ease my aches by using my devices more efficiently. I’m a big fan of Nuance’s voice recognition software, but I haven’t used it as much as I should. The company just released Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11 Pro and sent over a review copy. So far, it seems to be much more accurate than DNS 10 and MacSpeech, but I still need to get more accustomed to using it regularly. Voice transcription has its challenges, but I think the tradeoff is worth it. This should reduce the number of keystrokes by at least 10,000 per day and keep my hands, wrists and fingers from breaking down.

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I’ve also been searching for services and applications to help me keep better track of my health. During my first visit to the acupuncturist I had to fill out a bunch of medical history forms. My memory of check ups, procedures and hospitalizations isn’t nearly as thorough as my car’s and computers’ service records. I haven’t found the perfect software or service to aggregate everything yet, but Google Health looks like a promising start. There are a number of mobile apps that I’ve bought for my iPhone that look pretty solid.

But nothing beats actually getting out and moving. According to my acupuncturist, simply standing or walking more is a huge improvement over sitting for eight hours per day. I now stand while on conference calls and have started a habit of running and walking up the hills of San Francisco. I’m also throwing in some other exercises for strength and flexibility.

After three acupuncture treatments and a couple of weeks of adjustments my back is pain free. I went out and bought one of those fancy TempurPedic mattresses that should help even more.

I’m starting slow, but I hope all of these tweaks will have a positive effect on my health.  Is your health taking a hit from too much computing? Any tips for getting back on the right track?

Comments

  1. Joseph O'Laughlin says

    I use a Homedics Shiatsu back massage pad vertically while sitting back in a recliner/rocker. With heat.

    My back cinches up during the night. This 15 minute routine begins my day.

  2. aftermath says

    Like you, I’m much taller than most people who design and build the world. As a result of suffering with SHORT-sighted furniture designers, I started having back problems at the beginning of high school. While all traditional desk/chairs are bad for us tall people, many recently published research studies indicate that sedentary computer work is IRREVERSIBLY detrimental to human health. NOBODY, especially tall people, should be hanging out in front of a traditional desk in a normal chair for multiple hours a day. Here are a few tips. 1.) Look into “active seating”, for example something like the swopper. 2.) Work in an ergonomic lounger chair which more evenly supports the suspension of your spine and pressure on you joints. However, you still need to get up and move around. 3.) The previous two paths can be expensive, the cheap path is: Work standing. Buy a standing desk, or if you want to be cheap just elevate your current desk. If you don’t want to elevate your current desk for fear of stability, re-purpose a bookshelf by putting your computer monitor at face-height and your keyboard at sternum-height. My favorite tip: You can probably purchase an old metal filing cabinet for a few bucks in your local used market. It will be solidly built, offer plenty of storage, and you can place your laptop on its top and work from it in standing position. Because of it’s reduced footprint compared to a traditional desk and the fact that you won’t need to accommodate a chair, it will take up less room in your office as well. Like ANY new demand you place on your body, you WILL feel fatigue for the first week or two of this new routine. Like ANY healthy change in your lifestyle, this fatigue WILL disappear thereafter and you will feel the benefit resonate throughout your life. Of course, I’m not a doctor or expert, so run any change you’re thinking of making in the spirit of better health by your physician.

  3. tabletenvy says

    You’re certainly not alone, Xavier. I see a steadily increasing number of patients with issues related to prolonged computer use: neck/back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc. Even I’m finding that eyestrain has become a problem.

    We’ll have to see if any inadvertent “typos” slip out with your use of Dragon dictation in the coming days. Does the voice engine recognize the word “ouch”?

    ;)

  4. Roger J says

    I’m 63 and coming up to nearly a year of working mostly in a standing position. My home office desktop has been converted, but for my year-long assignment in the Middle East, I have a local woodwork/cabinet maker guy make me two raised boxes to place on the normal desk, one at the project office, the other in my apartment.
    I can easily go 8 hours without sitting down except in the taxi or the very occasional phase of fatigue in 45C heat.
    I’m still b it overweight, but I focus better when standing.
    If it works for me, that’s all I have to be concerned about. the only thing I think I’m missing is a foot rest like in a bar!

  5. Nameless says

    I may sit down for an hour or two straight while PC gaming, but I still shift around in my seat a bit. When doing more general computing tasks like Web browsing, I get up and walk around quite a lot. In fact, it doesn’t even have to involve a computer; I’ve been known to get up and walk around slightly in classrooms if it wouldn’t disturb anyone. Perhaps that’s why I’m not suffering quite as badly from body pains. (Or maybe it’s because I’m still only 20 and it’ll kick in with another decade of age.)

    That said, I’m rather unsatisfied with my current computing postures and am trying to think of better ways. Standing desks aren’t my thing, though; might be suitable for using my E-295C, but certainly NOT my desktop (because I need my feet free to use pedals). I seek a better chair, but one that won’t break the bank like a Herman Miller one (Aeron, Mirra, etc.) will…and preferably NOT on wheels and without arm rests. (I need something stable when I’m pushing against stiff rudder pedals, after all.) One thing’s for sure at this point, though-my current chairs only support my lower back, and it’s definitely not enough.

    I’ve thought about trying to find a used car seat or racing seat locally and building a stand out of wood for it, but I’m open to other options.

  6. Dayanim says

    Im 27 and recently started paying for years of sitting badly and a slight scoliosis with lower back and thigh pain. I started clinical pilates with a physio and its made me much more aware of my posture, and the assymmetry in my body from years of slouching and sitting in weird positions.Its amazing to start doing a few exercises and find aches in deep muscles only on one side as your body starts to even up the side which is weaker (less favoured in those comfortable couch positions). I figure if i do this twice a week for a few months, then just go once in awhile, while doing abit of exercise and these exercises regularly, i can fix my posture and much improve my body.

    Considering how much i love my gadgets, im going to need it for the rest of my life! :)

    Day.

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