Avoiding Writers' Crock - how to survive your desk

We make our writing spaces personalised havens or minimalist work centres but sometimes the desk hours bite back, and earlier this summer work on the trilogy had to be suspended indefinitely.

I spend an average of 7 hours solid sitting at my desk each time I write and do this several times a week.  I was getting so desk-bound that my back began to get tight.  Then it complained.  Then it yelled.  Finally, it told me in no uncertain terms it had had enough.  Each time I tried to write I had shooting pains up my back and down the front of my legs.  It was crisis time.  I had to stop everything.

Three trips to Putney's best professional physio and I was (and still am) on the road to recovery.  But boy, was I ignorant!

Physio4life Physiotherapy

Firstly - and this applies to any office worker - I never knew sitting down put more strain on your back than standing up!  Sitting takes the weight off your feet - but it requires 150% more effort from your lower back.  

Leaning backwards or rocking back also puts more not less pressure on your lower back.  Who knew!  I thought it was more comfy...

And I was also told to avoid sitting with my legs bent underneath my chair.  Now I always (try to) position them either directly beneath my knees (or just in front).

After my initial assessment I was given some tailored streching exercises to do - some of which I could do whilst sitting at the desk - that have already started to make a world of difference.  

There's no general exercises I would recommend because each case of back trouble can have different causes.  If you find your back is getting sore I'd recommend you seek out a specialist for your own assessment. Don't just ask other people for what they did when they had a problem.  If it's not correctly targeted, it might be that you'd make it worse.

Now I take a break every 30 minutes.  I hold a couple of stretching positions or just stand and then I can be back at it two minutes later, having released any strain that had been building up.

Seating arrangements:
The next problem was my chair.  I was using a dining chair that just happened to be a good height for my desk.  It was neat.  It was Italian.  It was chrome.  But it was also the seating equivalent of an iron maiden.  

Did it have lumbar support?  No.  How about height adjustment?  No.  Camber adjustment? Er, what's that?  No.  Seat pan adjustment?  No.  Well, perhaps you should think about getting a specialised desk chair, I was told politely.

I had no idea what was good.  I checked out John Lewis and liked their chairs but not their prices.  Then I found the same products could be had miles cheaper if I was OK with a refurbished used chair.  

Andrews Office Furniture

These are normally reclaimed from businesses that have either upgraded their office furniture or sadly gone bust.  The best place I found near to me in London was Andrews Office Furniture on the Fulham Road.  They had plenty of choice and were very helpful without being pushy.

In the end, I went for a Herman Miller Aeron chair.  They come in three different sizes to suit your weight and height.  They've won prestigeous design awards and are just about the most stylish thing on five wheels.  And getting one for £300 instead of £1000 felt pretty good, too.  They're not specialist orthopaedic chairs, but they are hugely adjustable.  So style, yes, but with substance.

Herman Miller Aeron Chair

With the help of Physio4Life and AOF, I'm up and running again.  I can put in the long desk hours that my passion and imagination demand without wrecking my back.  If my back gets sore - which, with all the sitting, is still inevitable - I can do things about it.  Most importantly, I now feel I'm in control.  Perhaps the trilogy will get finished after all...


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Reader Comments (1)

I'm glad you got a better chair to sit in. I took over one of guest bedroom and made it into my "studio." I bought a great leather office chair and a cheap desk. It works pretty well for me. I wish I could work on my writing for 7 hours a day. WTG!

December 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersharon mayhew

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