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Whose back hurts?

I have a bad back. It is very bad, I think. Three of the disks are "severely bulging" in my lower back. After a few hours of coding my feet fall asleep. It is hard for me to get up out of the chair.

Now, I'm not whining. I've had this problem for 10 years. and I just learned to live with it (I'm 27.). I read that somewhere like 75% of americans have bad backs. What I'm wondering, how many other programmers have this problem? What do you do about it? (i've seen a doctor and know his (impractical) advice, just wondering what other programmers do)

Friday, November 15, 2002

On a related note I have been wondering about coding standing up rather than sitting down.

I have a theory that standing up all day (or at least part of it) would improve my neck and back pains and also help me loose weight.

Fat Boy
Friday, November 15, 2002

My back had been in awfull condition for 2 or 3 years, and unfortunately my first 2 doctors did not help much. They gave me some exercises which i believe is suitable for a 80 year old . Being at 26 and a former sports guy, i could not benefit from exercises. Combined with my daily computer usage of 14+ hours, my back really gave my the hell for a long time.
The last doctor i spoke to has been a pro on sports injuries, and he adviced me to go back to training in a very controlled manner. At the beginning i thought i was never going to make it, but after 2-3 months of really light training, i got much better. After 5 months i had no problem with my back at all.
This may not be the case for everyone, but i certainly believe that you should make your body work to keep it healty. Try to exercise regularly, and i am not talking about olympic weightlifting of course; swimming or long walks are great for beginning. I know how hard it can be to find time for this kind of stuff, with all deadlines and work, but if you can't do it, nothing else can do it for you. No medicines, can help to make your back stronger.  I am aware that i should take care of my body if i want to work as a software developer, i hope you can get better in future..
Best Regards

Seref Arikan
Friday, November 15, 2002

I've had low-grade back pain for about 10 years, sometimes worse, sometimes better (at its worst I have to lie down from the spasms, sometimes I feel no pain).  I find that a good chair makes a difference, both at work and in the car if you have a commute.

I hit the gym for moderate weightlifting for months at a time, on and off.  I find it doesn't make a big difference either way, unless I do something stupid and injure myself, which has happened more than once.

I know I should do more stretching exercises - they do seem to help, but I have never been able to stick to a regimen.

Good luck with it.  I find all doctors to be 100% useless on the subject.


Robert Anderson
Friday, November 15, 2002

Personally, I have found that physical therapy works, as does acupuncture. Chiropractic did not help me.

I am tall and so in a normal chair, I have to slouch. When I got a drafting chair and jacked it up to the max height, and put together a very tall desk out of sawhorses and a discarded door, my back problems went away and I got more energy.

X.J. Scott
Friday, November 15, 2002

I've had success with chiropractic to get things feeling better.  The real cure is to exercise to strengthen the back.  Find a back clinic, basically it is a physical therapy clinic that specializes in back care.  For me chiropractic has alleviated the symptoms, but the real cure is fixing the underlying problems, muscular weakness, imbalance, etc.

Obviously if you have major structural damage, decayed, arthiritic, etc discs the above path may not yield any results and could further aggravate it.  A reputable back clinic will x-ray etc and can tell you if they can help.

Ryan Ware
Friday, November 15, 2002

I hear ya

I'm a programmer and a musician.
What really hurts, is sitting coding for 8 hours, then heading to a club and carrying heavy equipment around.

I find my neck muscles tense up so much that I am in constant pain. I haven't found the answer yet, but I will.......

Friday, November 15, 2002

Neck pain here. 

Dr. told me not to sit in front of the computer for more than 45 minutes per session and to start working out.

Friday, November 15, 2002

I keep a set of dumbbells in my cube and periodically do shoulder shrugs throughout the day.  Helps keep things loose.

lil' arnie
Friday, November 15, 2002

1) Some reasonable excersise will help. Run a few times a week, or lift weights, or do the 20-minute workout on fast forward (so it only takes 10 minutes - great workout! :-) ).

2) A really, really good chair will help a LOT. Invest a couple of thousand dollars and get a chair that kisses your ass and provides you with good support.

3) Avoid the 10-hours-at-the-computer syndrome. This took me a LONG time to overcome, but now I make a point of getting up every hour or so to stretch.

Tim Sullivan
Friday, November 15, 2002

I just started to do Yoga each day (Steve Ross on the chick channel whoops Oxygen) about three months ago and my carpel tunnel and back pains have all vanished.  The problem with weight lifting was I wasn't working my complete body (my own fault I'm sure) and there is the possibility of introducing new injuries as time goes on.

Jon Kenoyer
Friday, November 15, 2002

Shiatsu and some simple stretch exercises immediately cured my carpal tunnel pains and has helped greatly with back/neck/shoulder pains (the shoulder pains used to be unbelievably bad and anti-inflammatory painkillers prescribed by a doctor did nothing). Yoga also helped but I found I don't have the discipline to do yoga regularly enough :(

I'd definitely recommend shiatsu, just 2 sessions a month (1 hour per session) makes a huge difference.

A Melin
Friday, November 15, 2002

How long did it take for the yoga to be effective?

Gregor Brandt
Friday, November 15, 2002

It took a month before it stopped being pure torture, then another month before I started liking it.  Now I actually look forward to it.

Bit off topic but:

There are several interesting ideas in yoga regarding eastern vs western concepts.  The major one being that there is no difference between the mind and body, they are one and the same.  The mind and body being seperate entities are an artificial seperation we impose on ourselves. Programmers live in the intellect and reinforce this artificial barrier.

One of the goals of yoga is "shock" your system into the present with a bit of friendly pain ;)  By doing so you learn to let go of the past and not fret over the future so these worries don't ruin right now.

I find this has helped me immensely by allowing my mind to focus on the task at hand.  It also allows my poor brain a break from the mental chatter.  I relate this to the concept of moving the foreground job to the background in Unix.  Kinda like "FigureOutProgrammingProblem &".  It has also allowed me to work towards getting into the "zone" for programming work.

Hopefully I didn't get too new agey for everyone :P

Oh if you are getting bad carpel tunnel syndrome you might want to focus on not using the mouse as much. I noticed that the way the hand moves the mouse is more unnatural then just typing ;)

Jon Kenoyer
Friday, November 15, 2002

Simple stretching, a good chair with lumbar support, (And *sitting* properly in it!) and getting up and walking for 5-10 minutes every 2 hrs or so will do a world of good. Your lower-spine is designed for a concave bend, not a convex one, so even when sitting with your back away from a chair back (like when sitting in those meetings with lounge chairs) sit up and make sure your spine is aligned with a concave bend. Shoulders back.

For shoulder pain: Adjust your keyboard height and every half hour or so "push" your shoulders down. Typing will often cause tension in the arms and shoulders. Pushing the shoulders down and relaxing the shoulder muscles will help prevent cramping. I also personally avoid arm rests and "wrist-rests".
Carpal Tunnel:
Wrist-rests just help develop poor positioning, treating the symptom of Carpal rather than the cause. When typing, your wrists should be parallel or above your knuckles.  (Been typing & gaming for over 10 years every day without *any* wrist, hand, or arm pain at all.)

Trying to work while standing will actually be more harmful since it doesn't necessarily reinforce possitive posture, and leads to different problems that workers like cashiers experience with circulation and legs. I wasn't ever able to use the kneeling posture stools, but they do seem to be effective for "forcing" your posture just to feel balanced. :)

Steve P.
Friday, November 15, 2002

I second the recommendation for YOGA. It's more than just stretching. Yoga is a real workout. If you do it right, you will be sweating.

I like to do the Yoga Zone videos in the privacy of my own home. Each video has two 20-minute workouts at beginning to intermediate levels.

Friday, November 15, 2002

I'm thinking of trying the yoga bit. I'm an athlete, and I have tried various martial arts in the past, so I'm a bit skeptical about some of the new-agey aspects of yoga. Luckily I found a very athletic-oriented (ashak...something style) yoga place very close to my home.

regarding the standing desk, I'm tall, and have tried this in the past. It gets kind of hard to focus after a bit, standing up. However I might try getting a tall drafting chair.

There is a really nice Herman Miller desk system that adjusts for standing or sitting with the touch of a lever. It is called the "levity" system. Unfortunately it is over $3000 USD. However, my friend's dot com should be about to go bust, and they have a number of them. ;-)

Friday, November 15, 2002

[The mind and body being seperate entities are an artificial seperation we impose on ourselves.]

That's very true. I have done yoga every day for the past 20 years, originally because of
lower back problems. It was helpful from the beginning but I think I've started to appreciate it more recently. Feeling connected with your body is far more important than most of us imagine. The mind and body depend on each other -- no oxygen or energy gets into your brain unless your body sends it.
Inactivity and bad posture are, I think, the cause of many or most health problems in our society. You can't go year after year after decade without moving your muscles or stretching and expect to be physically or mentally healthy.
I also walk 5 or 10 miles every day, and it's very hard to find the time. There is always social pressure to stop but I won't. I also walk during my lunch half hour at work, which means less time to socialize with co-workers (since most of them are about as active as house plants).
Exercise used to be a natural part of life but now it has to be planned consciously, which is hard.
Everyone thinks we are now healthier and live longer thanks to medical technology and drugs,
so they don't have to exercise. I don't believe it. There are certain things people no longer die from thanks to better surgery and antibiotics, but overall health was probably much much better in ancient times.

Friday, November 15, 2002

I think Yoga is good, but deep tissue massage is better.  If you can find someone who is good at the techniques of myofascial release using T-bars, I think that would help your back tremendously.

I injured my back in high school lifting weights and thought I would never feel healthy again.  My neck was always terribly stiff, and I had to pop my neck seemingly every 5 minutes.  I was already a little shy, and I could tell that people were repulsed when I popped my neck, so I was kind of trapped in this downward spiral where the pain kept getting worse and I was terrified to even be around people due to the fact that I didn't want to gross them out with my neck popping.  I seriously thought that the pain would literally kill me before age 40. 

After I graduated college and started a paying job, it was pure torture trying to make it through an an eight-hour workday.  In desparation, I finally went to a massage therapist.  As luck would have it, the therapist I went to knew the techniques of myofascial release.  The first session was pretty painful, but after it was over, I knew I had found what I needed.  After about 8 months of 2x-a-month treatments, I felt better than I could ever remember feeling. 

I had quite a few chiropractic session over the years and they would usually make the pain go away for a few hours, but it would always come back a day or two later.  I believe bad backs are caused by weak or tight muscles.  Chiropractic only realigns the ligaments, it doesn't help the muscles to heal.  Myofascial release works the muscles and helps them to heal.  Immediately after a myofascial session, I would usally feel pain, but it was a good type of pain.  I knew my body was healing.  Unlike the chiropractic treatments, a few days after a myofascial treatment, my body would start to feel better. 

I believe the overall cost for all the treatments was about $1500 to $2000, but I would have gladly payed $10,000.  Back pain is the worst type of pain to have.  It can negatively affect your whole life. 

I haven't had a session in over a year.  I have some pain in my back now, but if I did yoga for a week or so it would probably go away.  The pain is nothing like it used to be.

I think this guy is the guru on the technique:

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Oh yeah, one other good thing about myofascial release is that you only have to show up.  The therapist pretty much does everything.  All you have to do is lie on your stomack for half an hour and then lie on your back for half an hour.  The therapist does most of the work.  You do have to endure some pain, however. 

This technique also helped me get in tune with my body.  I was a natural athlete as a kid, but never really learned what my body needed until I started receiving myofascial release.  I am now no longer terrified when I feel back pain, because I know that I can do some yoga to make it go away.   

Saturday, November 16, 2002

I worked really hard on a project a few years ago and was obviously fairly tense (new technology, new subject area, etc) and I made the mistake of having my monitor slightly to the left of my desk, meaning that I had to glance slightly to the left when working. One morning I woke up with my head 'jammed' to the left and had to have about a week off work due to the soreness. Also I spent about $800 in chiro, physio and massage over the next month.
Pain knows no budget.
Now I make sure everything is positioned straight, and I sit straight, plus, to tell the truth, I was a bit porky at the time and I've since lost about 6kg, that makes a huge difference.

Saturday, November 16, 2002

It's all about monitor placement.

I see people with major back/neck problems who have their monitor in the corner of their desk.  Constantly having to twist your neck is not a good thing.  A dual-head display complicates this.  The good answer is tri-head :-)

Also, make sure your monitor isn't too low on your desk.  This is a big one.  Assuming your sitting straight up (proper posture), the top edge of the CRT should be in the middle of your field of vision.  Very few people actually do this.  It's why most computer people have bad posture.  Raise the monitor (or lower the chair).  That way, you have to look straight ahead to see the monitor (instead of looking down).  Keep the CRT screen at a right angle to the desk surface.  Get a monitor riser, or use a computer with a desktop case.

Do you keep your wallet in your back pocket?  Move it to your front pocket.  Think about it, you're sitting a little bit unevenly.  It bows your back.  This has been linked to a lot of back problems in males.

Myron Semack
Saturday, November 16, 2002

Yoga works when done corretly.

The other thing I find useful is to sleep on the floor(on a thin mat) without a pillow, does wonders for your back.

Prakash S
Saturday, November 16, 2002

Everyone is different, and I made some changes by fixing my monitor height and I got a foot rest, but I think the biggest difference came with the SelectComfort air bed. If you decide to buy one, you can skip all the add-ons and fancy gizmos -- their top of the line model uses the same innards as their bottom of the line model. The price differences come from the amount of padding on the top part (you can add your own when you assemble the thing), and the type of controller you get. I'd be glad to elaborate if anyone is interested. It absolutely cured my back pains.

Troy King
Sunday, November 17, 2002

I've been having a lot of problems which may be originally caused by an injury i had when i used to teach judo...

I've been having acupuncture and massage together and that has made a world of difference to me. But in addition, a back problem is often a lifestyle problem - you should by all means have treatment but you have to look at your exercise habits, workspace, how long you sit down without moving much while coding, etc.

Robert Moir
Monday, November 18, 2002

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