Monday, 30 January 2017 by Ian Ebden
Looks like this article is over a year old, so some of the technical solutions or opinions may be a bit outdated now.
Being a web developer should carry a health warning. No really. Sitting in front of a computer all day every day is not conducive to a healthy body – especially your back. I should know, because years ago I used to suffer from chronic back issues. I’d spend long hours every day in front of the computer, and then immediately hit the gym, then go home and be a human climbing frame for my daughter. This was all having a devastating effect on my back. Then one day my back just said “f*ck it”, and I got my first major spasm.
Back spasms are not fun. I don’t recommend them at all. They’re agony, and it took me a full week to recover. I rested up and became a little more conscious about my posture during the day, but then quickly returned to my usual bad habits. A couple of months later I got another bad spasm and ended up back in bed. I realised it was time to make some major changes. Now that my back problems are all… behind me, I thought I’d share my tips for a healthy back so you can avoid similar problems.
Get a good chiropractor
Long hours sitting at a desk weakens your back, and your range of movement becomes restricted. Then when you twist or lift suddenly your back can go into lockdown (spasm) as a self-defence mechanism. Having done contact sports all my life I’m no stranger to the chiropractor, so this was my first port of call. Chiropractors are able to override your back’s defence mechanism and relax everything, so your pain eases and you start to get your range of motion and stability back. They can also advise on posture and exercises to strengthen your core and back, and create a stronger ’scaffold’.
Although I no longer have back issues I still visit my chiro twice a year, and I’d recommend anyone do this. It’s a great way to generally ’unlock’ your body, and prevent all kinds of health issues. A good chiro can also spot issues you weren’t aware of.
Quit the gym
I’ve always been a bit of a health nut when it comes to exercise and nutrition. I’d hit the gym hard for an hour before or after work every day. But with age comes wisdom, and I now see I was doing it all wrong. I was regularly nicked up with aches and pains because I over-trained and didn’t rest enough. So I quit the gym, and started working out at home, using a less-is-more approach.
Nowadays I use the excellent FitStar app*. Thirty minutes a day is all I need – no weights, no machines, and a much more complete workout than I was doing before. I put much more emphasis on core development, including plenty of squats and some yoga. I also mix it up much more with cross training, martial arts, cycling and running thrown in to keep it all interesting and challenging. Gone are the aches and pains, and I’m much fitter, leaner and stronger now than I was in my 20s.
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Change your workspace
I also had to change how I was working. Fundamentally that meant working fewer hours. For me that didn’t mean doing less work, I just had to do a better job of making every hour count, with better planning and fewer distractions. For example I started scheduling time in the day to deal with email rather than constantly interrupting what I was doing to respond to messages.
My physical setup was all wrong, so that needed to change too. Standing desks are all the rage, and they’re definitely a major help. But standing for long periods comes with its’ own set of problems. Plus, unless you make your own they can be very expensive and take up a lot of space. Instead I have a Posture Stand, recommended by The London Spine Clinic. I like it because I can use it in a variety of positions, and it folds flat for storage. When sitting I also often use a SitFit – an ’air filled balance pad’ – that works your core as you balance on it.
Take a break
The key for me though is just to make sure I don’t remain in the same position for too long. That means regular breaks. The workaholic in me used to feel guilty if I left my laptop for even a minute. Now I see how important it is to take regular breaks – a 20 minute walk, pop out for a coffee, watch TV... These unscheduled timeouts also help reboot your mind so you’re more productive when you return to work.
It’s all behind me now
It’s been a few years since I had my last spasm, or any back discomfort for that matter, and it’s down to the fundamental changes I’ve made to my workspace and my general wellbeing. Maybe you suffer from back, neck or shoulder stiffness and discomfort? If you do then pay attention because your body is telling you to make a change. Maybe some of these tips can help you avoid the dreaded spasms!