It’s Back

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I’m realizing that one of the signs of being back in the office and our hall more often is my aching back. Immediately preceding lockdown in March of ’20 I was routinely seeing an acupuncturist to relieve the lower back pain which was climbing down my leg and I was attributing to long hours in concert hall seats, airplanes and office chairs.

Over time at home, with a lousy “temporary” office, the back pain grew worse until I finally analyzed my computer set up and chair, added an external keyboard and a lift to the monitor as well as a carefully chosen chair, which I purchased after much reading and consideration. In addition, instead of my weight lifting regime as my only exercise, I began running and that made a dramatic difference too.

Cookie taking advantage of a light warmed space on my home desk.

My father’s back pain was a part of family life so I am no stranger to the concept. Dad was about 6’4″ and his career as a news cameraman meant he spent hours with heavy equipment on his shoulder (one ending up considerably lower than the other later in life) and straining his back. In addition, he drove for hours on end for domestic stories, and of course airplane travel when they went that route wasn’t much kinder. As a result my father’s mercurial back would go out reaching for a salt shaker at dinner or even sneezing, leaving him in bed or on one dreadful occasion, on the bedroom floor.

According to Blackie, the home desk is good for napping too.

There was the summer he was on the rigging of a tall ship in Newport for work (perhaps in 1976 as part of the Bicentennial) when his back went out. It was evidently a painful and prolonged trip getting both him and his equipment down in one piece. His colleagues then packed him in a car with pillows all around to enable him to drive the straight five hours or so back home in New Jersey. He spent the rest of the summer recovering, mostly in an ancient rocker which now sits in my apartment. At the time it seemed like the longest period he had ever been home with us which was probably true.

So I am no stranger to back pain, although I suppose if it came right down to it mine is a bit different than his which seemed to have been linked to discs that were being crushed by weight slowly over time. I have touched on my own psoriatic arthritis and exercise (a post can be found here) and at least some of my back pain is attributable to the inexorable advance of that disease, which expressed itself first in my lower back. And a recent hiccup with my longstanding meds (no one needs to hear an insurance company rant from me) has also exacerbated the problem again.

Cookie on the old desk chair which was killing my back. She still enjoys it however.

But one of the culprits is a byproduct of our return to the office (hybrid, three days a week) and sitting in lousy chairs. I realize now that my desk set up there is also a bit jerry-rigged, the chair (even with a back cushion added) is less than desirable and my feet at an odd angle. Add to that conference room chairs which seem to be down a notch from the one in my office and we have the recipe for worsening if not instigating said back pain. A long Board meeting on Zoom from there on Wednesday seems to have pushed me over the edge this week. Ironically now the home office is the better set up.

There’s always a certain amount of fighting over the new desk chair, regardless of whether I am in it or not…

I have always felt that the weird part of back pain is that there is a subconscious preference for maintaining the postures that in reality make it worse and perhaps helped to cause it. Back pain does not make me want to be at a standing desk for example. It makes me want to sit on my couch or curl up on the bed – neither exactly great for back pain. It makes me want to not move, when exercise and movement is the best thing to alleviate it.

So I will start to fight back today. It is a sunny crisp fall morning and I will be out for a run shortly and perhaps that and stretching before and after will start me on the path to recovery. (The stiffness and pain has dampened my desire to run this week, although I was out on Monday.) Meanwhile, I will see what I can do about improving my work office with some implements to arrange me in a better position. Not much I can do about the conference room or concert hall seats, but I will hope that this combined with a resolution around my meds and that issue, will tip the scales back in my favor. I will let you know.

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