Sit or Stand: How Do You Keep Your Back Happy?

Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Charles Dickens wrote standing up. Virginia Woolf wrote standing up. I can write standing up. Right?

We’ll see.

Convinced that sitting all day at my computer was killing my back, I set out to create a more permanent standing setup than planting my laptop on a rack on top of my sewing machine cabinet in the guest room or occasionally on the kitchen counter. After much measuring, planning, online ordering, and office rearranging, I now have in my official office a standup working arrangement. My desktop computer is an old Windows 7 model with all the brains in a box on the floor. Some of my USB cables were not long enough, so I had to change to a Bluetooth-connected printer (thank you, Pat) and order a wireless keyboard (I had worn off the L and the N anyway). I had to move my clock and my calendars so I could sort of see them, and I’m still figuring out where to put my mug-warmer, so I can sip my tea while I work without spilling it on the keyboard.

All of this rearranging required much standing, bending, lifting and crawling, delightful for my back. If you recall, last week, I was mostly lying down staring at the ceiling or the sky. But I’m doing much better, I was careful, and I’m seeing the chiropractor again today for one more tuneup.  

Standing here, I can look out at my back yard. Sunrise was so beautiful. I can check email and Facebook while on my feet. But I get tired. I wrote this morning’s poem sitting on the loveseat with the dog, and I’m sitting in my new raised “drafting” chair as I type this. But when I feel like it, I’ll stand for a while. I wonder if one thinks differently, if one writes differently standing vs. sitting. Does the body assume a fight or flight stance? What do you think?

I haven’t had a job that required much standing since I worked retail in college. I do remember how great it felt to sit down on my breaks. Since I went into the newspaper biz in my senior year, I have always worked seated. This is a privilege not granted to all workers. Think about all the people who spend all day on their feet: waitresses, cooks, nurses, assembly line workers, bank tellers, hairstylists, teachers, and more. A lot of us don’t even notice that these workers are standing all day, but they are.

It doesn’t take much research to learn that even with supportive shoes, cushioned surfaces, and occasional breaks, standing jobs take a toll on the body. In fact, they’re just as bad for your back as sitting all day. Check out these articles:

Standing All Day at Work May Take Toll on Health, WebMD News from HealthDay

10 jobs that keep you on your feet

Standing All Day for Work? Here’s How to Avoid Pain and Injury

So what do we do? I can testify that sitting all day trashes your back, especially if you’re hunched forward concentrating like I tend to do. You also get “lithographer’s spread” (fat butt) as my late father-in-law used to say. Standing uses more calories, so I’m hoping to lose a few pounds, but I can already tell I’ll only be standing off and on.

Our bodies are made to move. I believe the only logical conclusion is to not stay in any one position too long. So now I’m standing as I write this last bit. Up, down, up, down, keep it moving. I set a timer to both force myself to stay on task and to tell me when to get up and move.

There are people who sit on big rubber balls or run on treadmills while working. Amazon offers what looks like a stool on a rubber mount that keeps moving around. I don’t have the coordination for that, but I applaud their creativity.

How about you? How much time do you sit? Have you worked jobs where you had to stand all day? How did you deal with that? How do you keep your back happy? I look forward to your comments.

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Bad back: rest, ice, yoga, beans?

Rest.

Ice.

Heat.

Yoga.

Rest.

Chiropractor.

NO chiropractor.

Drugs.

Walk.

Rest.

Lie on a bag of beans.

What?

Everybody’s got advice for the person with the hurting back. That last suggestion came from my dad, who said Grandpa believed in the bean cure. Well, at least that wouldn’t give me indigestion, I responded. Anyway, I don’t have a bag of beans.

Back issues run in the family. My parents went to a chiropractor named Dr. Roy. I think he was about a hundred years old by the time he retired, and God knows what methods he used back in the olden days. I was in my 20s the first time my back went out. It happened after I lifted an enormous amplifier out of the back of my VW bug. I began a long acquaintance with Dr. Birdsong.

The last week has been a real bag of beans, thanks to my wonky back going full-out ballistic. I’m writing this standing, with my laptop on a file cabinet. Wait, my legs are tired. Now I’m sitting on a stool. Soon, I’ll be lying down. On my back. On my side. On the other side. There is no perfect position. Finishing this, I’ll be back at my desk, feeling my thighs go numb. And yes, this is an ergonomic chair! Back to Dr. Schones in two hours.

What did you do, everybody asks. I don’t know. Dr. S. says I waited too long to come in for an adjustment, making me ripe for this grand subluxation (where the bones shift out of alignment). I do know that most days the week before, I sat scrunched up at my desk for hours, fascinated by the project I was working on. Come the weekend, I cleaned house on Saturday and went on a yard-work binge on Sunday. Mowed, trimmed, cut, raked, swept, watered. I was so proud of myself. Monday morning I could not move.

In the worst of it, I had a hard time standing, especially from a sitting position. Ask my dog. I hollered every time at the red-hot pain of trying to unlock the muscles and bones that kept me from straightening up. Suddenly all those sit-coms where a character suddenly can’t move were not the least bit funny. I tried going sideways. I tried coming up from my knees. I tried sliding from a high seat to my feet.

Watching me get dressed would make a fun video. I sympathized with my dad, who had me putting on his socks and shoes after his hip replacement and who still can’t bend all the way down. A week earlier, I was doing yoga, but now I could not bend down or lift my feet up. I considered going barefoot, opted for flip-flops. These are the times that make living alone a challenge. If only Fred were still here to help me with my shoes, lift me up when I needed to stand, and say, “Oh, Babe,” when the pain brought tears to my eyes.

I canceled most activities. I watched far too much of the political conventions and the incessant TV conversations about Trump vs. Clinton. I read, I wrote, and I snuggled with my dog. I penned poems about the fragility of the human body. I prayed for healing.

I am healing. I have been going to the chiropractor. I have been icing my back. I have been trying to keep moving so that I don’t freeze up. It still hurts.I worry that it will never be right again, but Dr. S. assures me I just need to get everything in alignment and let the muscles and tendons get stronger. After today’s adjustment, I’ll feel the raw pain again, I’m sure. But every time I can freely move from sitting to standing, I celebrate. I have been through this before, and I’m sure it will happen again. It’s in the genes. Grandpa lay on beans. Dad went to Dr. Roy. My favorite thing is to lie on my back on the deck with my legs right-angled over the hot tub cover. Takes the pressure off my back. But it’s hard to type that way.

Have you heard the warnings about sitting too long? Google it, and scare yourself. We are a sedentary culture. We don’t move enough, and we pay for it. I see far too many young people limping along with hurting backs. Writers and other computer workers try various options. Standing desks. Kneeling desks. Treadmill desks. Timers to make them get up at regular intervals. Perching on an exercise ball. I love to write and revise. I love getting so involved I forget about time. But my body is paying for it.

Annie is enjoying my lazy life. Wherever I settle, she collapses next to me. It’s very comforting. Until she pretzels herself and licks her bottom. Nothing wrong with her back. She only sits when she wants me to give her food. And she nags me when it’s time for a walk. Dogs are definitely smarter than we are.

If you’re sitting right now, get up and be grateful that you can. If you can’t, I sympathize. I’ll share my hot tub with you.

Just hold the beans.