Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Guest Author, Jana Richards

Today's guest is Wild Rose Press author Jana Richards, who, like me, has an interest in promoting health and well being, so I invited her to do some guest posts on things that affect us all. I can't think of a person I know who hasn't experienced back pain at one time or another, and I, for one, have already learned a few things here I can do to make my back feel better thanks to Jana's research. That said, Jana and I invite you to sit back, relax, and learn what you can do to make your time in any chair more comfortable.

Like many writers, I spend a lot of time sitting in front of my computer. Add to that the time I spend working at the computer for my day job and it’s no wonder I’ve experienced back pain. It not only makes me feel miserable, it makes me a less productive writer. Time to take some action.

First of all, what causes back pain? Here are some of the most common causes:

Strains, sprains and spasms –The most common cause of back pain is an injury to a muscle (strain) or to a ligament (sprain) in the back. Strains and sprains can be caused by improper lifting, excessive weight, and poor posture. Even an awkward sleeping position or hauling around a heavy purse all day can cause a strain or sprain. An injured muscle may also "knot up." This muscle spasm is your body's way of immobilizing the affected area to prevent further damage.

Osteoarthritis – Osteoarthritis is also known as “wear and tear” arthritis. As we age, the cushions (disks) between the vertebrae in our backs become flatter and less flexible. Without the cushioning these disks provide, the joints between the vertebrae press tightly together, often causing back pain and stiffness.
Herniated Disk - Normal wear and tear over time can cause one of the disks in your spine to rupture (herniate). Exceptional strain or traumatic injury can have the same effect. Many people describe this as a "slipped" disk. Back pain results when the herniated disk pinches one of the nerves that come out of the spinal cord. If the sciatic nerve is affected, you may develop sciatica — a sharp, shooting pain in the lower back, buttocks and leg.

Osteoporosis – As we age we lose calcium in our bones, causing them to become less dense and more brittle. If you have osteoporosis, lifting and other routine tasks can cause fractures, called compression fractures, to form on the front part of the weakened bones of your back. These fractures result in back pain.

Fibromyalgia - Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by fatigue and widespread pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons — including the lower back.

So what can we as writers do to keep our backs healthy and pain free? Some of the things we can do to keep our backs pain free are the same things we need to do to maintain good general health:

Keep Fit – Strong and flexible muscles will keep your back in shape. Both the back muscles and the abdominal muscles need to be strengthened in order to keep the back from hurting. Exercises for these “core” muscles will assist in this strengthening. To see a slideshow of core exercises from the Mayo Clinic, go here.

Keep your weight under control – Watching your weight not only keeps your heart healthy, improves your mood and increases your confidence, it also reduces your risk of back pain. According to the website “Back Pain Expert” weight gain may result in back pain “because the lower back, known as the lumbar region, supports the weight of the whole of the upper body, and gaining weight, as well as putting an extra strain on the knee and hip joints, can increase the burden on the lumbar region. This puts additional pressure on the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons of the back. Long-term, the extra weight can damage the discs between the vertebrae, the bones that make up the spine, can cause the spine to develop an unnatural curve, and can worsen the bone damage in osteoporosis.” Another good reason to say no to that extra helping at dinner!

Stop smoking – If you needed yet another reason to quit smoking, Dr. Mehmet Oz says that smoking can cause “accelerated disk degeneration and increased pain.”

Get some sleep – Dr. Oz also says that getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night allows the body to repair itself. Go to the above website for tips in finding the right sleep position.

Stretch it Out - I find that stretching helps to take the stiffness out of my back as well as alleviating the pain. To view a slideshow of stretches supplied by the Mayo Clinic please click on this website.

Even if we follow all the advice for good healthy living, if we aren’t careful about the way we work, it could be all for naught. Here’s some tips for keeping your back pain free while still being a productive writer:
The Chair’s the Thing – A properly fitting office chair is probably the single most important tool in keeping your back pain free. Make sure to adjust your chair to your height before you adjust your monitor, keyboard or mouse. If you don’t have an adjustable chair, consider using a lumbar support or a pillow to support your back, using a pillow under your seat if you’re sitting too low, or a footrest under your feet to bring your thighs parallel with the ground. Healthy Computing has good information on setting up your chair as well as information on what to look for when you’re buying a new chair.

Remember to Move – The body can only stay comfortably in one position for about 20 minutes at time. If you get too absorbed in your work and lose track of time, set a timer to remind you to change position.

Check your Posture - Relax your shoulders, keep your feet flat on the floor, and avoid leaning close to tasks on your desk. To see illustrations of good posture, check this website.

Rarely, back pain may indicate a more serious underlying problem, such as an infection, diabetes, kidney disease or cancer. If you’re struggling with back pain, and none of the measures mentioned here alleviate the pain, the best thing to do is to check with your doctor.
Have you experienced back pain while writing? What do you do to alleviate it?
Jana is the author of the newly released Jewel of the Night series novella, Flawless.


Karyn Good said...

Hi Jana. Great post. It can make for a very long day if your back is giving you trouble! You've given some great tips. I need to remember to take breaks and stretch things out. I'm going to check out the links you mentioned because I've been looking for some good stretching ideas!

Unknown said...

JAN--very good advice. Of the list, I could check more than one that applied to me. I've learned some of the things you suggest--like moving away from the computer often. Stand up--go get a drink of water, check the laundry, stir the soup, touch your toes ten does help.
When I'm editing a ms for an editor is the worst time for me. The ms stares me in the face, and I'm compelled to finish it in record time--maybe days, but as fast as I can.
As a result, I sit for long period of time until my back really begins to hurt. Then I know--"get up, stupid!"
Thanks for the reminders--Celia
P.S. I'm glad to see you having a good time outside the Prairie Chicks blog. I do miss it, though.

Unknown said...

I wrote "Jan" because I did not proof my post. Sorry, Jana.

Keena Kincaid said...

Hi, Jana. Thanks for the advice. It's funny how I know all this but yet I still forget to do it until at the end of a long day, I try to stand and realize I'm stuck in my chair. :-)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karyn,
Nice to see you! It can be excruciating if your back is giving you problems. I know, I've been there. I've had times when my back goes out completely and the pain is unbearable. Makes me feel about hundred years old. Over Christmas when we were visiting relatives, I woke in the middle of the night with my leg on fire from a pinched sciatic (sp) nerve. The six hour drive probably did me in. The yoga stretches helped out a lot on that one.

I know everything I should be doing, but I'm not always good about doing it. Like, I really should work harder at losing weight. It would probably help out the back a lot.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Celia,
I lose track of time when I'm working on a first draft, especially if the words are just flying off my fingers. Before I know it, an afternoon has disappeared. Also, time flies when I'm trying to update my blog or my website, usually because it takes me forever to figure anything out!

I still miss Prairie Chicks too, but it helps to guest blog with other writers to feel like a community again. And don't worry about calling me Jan. I've been called worse!


Jana Richards said...

Hi Keena,
Yes, this is a case of "do as I say and not as I do". I don't always stand and stretch as often as I should. Though I take yoga and Pilates classes once each every week, I should probably excercise more, and don't get me started on how much weight I should lose! At least I don't smoke! Of all the information here, pay special attention to the information on selecting a chair. I found once I got a good chair and started using a lumbar support both at work and at home, it helped a lot.

Thanks for stopping by,

Mona Risk said...

Jana and Liana, Thank you.

I started reading your post, and then decided to kick myself out of my depressed whining mood where I have been indulging all last week. Lounging in front of the TV, relieving the stress of lousy news through eating chocolate, almonds, pistachios, cheese, drinking coffee to wash all that down, and calm my stomach ulcer. Add to that a rejection and ten pounds on my hips!!! Okay I started reading your post, then went to wear my sneakers and walked for a full hour, three miles. I am back feeling much better than I had in ten days. Thank you.

Stephanie Burkhart said...

Liana and Jana, Awesome topic today ladies. For me, it's so important to get up and move. A 40 minute walk envigorates me and I don't feel so guilty sitting in front of the computer.

Another thing to consider - Carpel Tunnel. You've got to take care of your wrists. I like to do wrist excerises with 5 pound weights to keep them flexiable.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Mona,
I'm sorry you've been feeling lousy lately but I'm really glad that reading this blog gave you a little boost. Way to go for pulling yourself out of the duldrums!

Since you brought up stomach ulcers, I discovered a few months ago that I self-medicated myself into an ulcer. I've been taking ibuprophen for years for neck pain and headaches and now for lower back pain. Apparently medications like Motrin and Aleve are really hard on the stomach. So be really careful about what you take for pain. Try stretching and exercise first if you can.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Steph,
I think a good walk not only makes you feel better physically, it brightens your emotional mood as well. My problem with walking right now is the weather. It's been crazy cold here. But if you dress up, it's still possible. But my walks with the dog are pretty brief these days.

Good idea about doing exercises for the wrists. Carpal tunnel is something writers have to watch out for.


Janet said...

Great article, Jana - and some great links. Thanks.

Like you, I sit at a computer for the Day Job and while writing. I've discovered that a timer is very helpful. I set it for an hour and when it goes off, I get up and move around for 10 minutes. Some stretching, go make a cup of tea, walk around the house. It really has helped with my lower back pain.

Of course, getting on a regular exercise schedule since the beginning of the year has helped, too.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
A timer is a great idea! Should have thought of that one myself. I think I'll steal it from you.

The weather turned today from freeze your face off to tolerable. Almost feels like spring around here, so I took the dog out for two walks today. It felt really good. But I know I need to do something more consistently. Congrats to you for getting in shape!