December 3, 2012

My Aching Back and My Home Office Ergonomics

Forget my Parkinson's and my prostate cancer. What's been troubling me most for over a year is lower back pain. After trying acupuncture, reiki, chiropractic, and a variety of other treatments, I'm finally experiencing some progress.

Identifying what's really helping is difficult because, as usual, I've been trying several different things. But I'm convinced the work I've just begun with the physical therapy department at Georgetown University Hospital is already helping, and promises to be a major factor in future progress.

When I was first diagnosed with Parkinson's, my neurologist recommended I take the BIG exercise program designed specifically for people with PD. He wrote a prescription for the Georgetown Hospital's program.

I worked with Lisa Ebb, one of their physical therapists, and found the BIG program helped my balance and improved my shuffling, stooped gait. I was unusually faithful in keeping up with the program until the August 2011 car crash that triggered the back pain . . . and gave me an excuse for slacking off. I need to start doing the exercises again, since the balance problems have resurfaced.

A month ago, my neurologist prescribed a BIG refresher course, and I asked to be scheduled with Lisa again. At our initial consultation, Lisa decided that rather than resume work on BIG -- which I know how to do and just need to do it -- we should see what could be done about the aching back.

My Old, Poor Work Posture
She started me on an exercise regimen I feel is helping. I also told her I thought the hours I spent every day at my desktop computer might be contributing to the back problem. She asked for a photo of my desktop setup. Here's what I sent:

My feet are on an inclined foot rest recommended by a healthy back store. The keyboard is on the desk and the monitor sits on top of several books to elevate it above the inclined keyboard.

Well, Lisa found lots wrong and little right with this setup. She told me to ditch the footrest. My feet should be flat on the floor. My knees and thighs should be under the desk. The keyboard should be lowered. The monitor should be 18 to 30 inches from my face. The arm rests should be lowered.

The basic rule for PC desk ergonomics, Lisa said, is 90-90-90. My feet and ankles should form a 90 degree angle. My thighs and back should also form a 90 degree angle, making my knees parallel to -- or a little lower than -- my hips. My upper and lower arms should be at a 90 degree angle, putting my wrists in a straight line over the keyboard.

The New Ergonomic John
So I junked the footstool. I went on and found a keyboard that attached under the desk. I got rid of the books that propped up the monitor and, with the keyboard no longer on the desk, I could move the monitor forward, about 18 inches from my face. I adjusted the arm rests so that my wrists were directly over the new lowered keyboard.

Just before leaving with the family for a week in Iceland, I had Nimesh take this shot of new Ergonomic John. I've got a session with Lisa coming up, so we'll see what she says about the new setup.               

Other Good Sitting Posture Tips
Lisa gave me several other suggestions for good work posture:
  • Approximately 3/4 of the thigh should be supported on the chair.
  • Sit directly on the bones of your bottom.
  • Keep your back straight. Bend forward at the hips to distribute weight equally between your bottom and feet. (Oops! I'm leaning back in the photo above, not "hinging forward.")
  • Take a deep breath, relax your abdominals and let your rib cage rest on the top of the pelvis. As Lisa puts it, "Let your chest rest on your stomach." After a week of eating my way around Iceland, the chest has an even bigger resting place.
  • Bring the shoulder blades up, back and down and relax the shoulders.
  • Lengthen the head and neck up toward the ceiling, tuck your chin up and back to keep your ears over your shoulders. Relax your head, so you're like a bobblehead doll. 


Lisa Ebb said...

Your new computer station set-up looks fabulous! I have a couple more suggestions to improve it even more. It looks like you are looking down in the picture. Put some books under the monitor stand to raise it up so it is at eye-level. Also, is the keyboard angled? If so, I would prefer it to be flat so you are not over extending your wrists.
Great Job!


John said...

Many thanks Lisa. What I've done is adjusted the seat of the office chair, rather than use books to raise the monitor, so that I'm now looking straight ahead at the monitor. And I've made the keyboard flat. And my back ache is much better, but that may have even more to do with the exercises you are teaching me. Looking forward to seeing you again soon ! -- John

Lisa said...

I read your response; just make sure by lowering the chair, your hips are not lower than your knees.

Bill said...

I've been meaning to write for some time, but your post got me to thinking . . .

I started working on a makeshift stand-up desk at AARP back in March, and I view it as one of the best decisions I've ever made . . . so much so that I'm thinking about doing at home, too. Feel free to call if I can explain more.

Thanks for all the wonderful work you do

Bob said...

Let me share a remedy that has relieved me from essentially all lower back pain for the past 10 years. Before that I spent about as many years with my back making me miserable. I go to a chiropractor once every six weeks to get readjusted. I was told 10 years ago that MY problem is that much of the cartelege (sp?) between my virtabrae (sp?) has gone. The discs slip until I am in pain. By readjusting I get back in order before that occurs. It also just feels great having it done.

John said...

I worked for a couple of months with a chiropractor with no discernible results. Glad it works for youl

Ann said...

Best posture tip I’ve seen anywhere is to focus not on your back or shoulders but simply imagine there’s a helium balloon tethered to the top-center of your head lifting you upwards. I find whether I’m craning my neck forward in front of a computer, starting to slump from the shoulders or leaning too far forward walking, imagining that balloon helps me reorient my whole alignment – without tensing my muscles or overcorrecting by straightening out my shoulders but not my lower spine or vice versa.

John said...

That's a great tip. It works . . . when I remember to use it.

Jackie Johnston said...

I agree. Maintaining the proper posture — be it sitting or standing — can help prevent back pains and other related conditions. And if I may add, you can also stand up, take a little walk, and flex your limbs every once in a while, so your body won't be stationary for too long. It can help stimulate your blood circulation and prevent muscle cramps as well.

Jackie Johnston @ New Life Chiropractic