What I Did on my “Summer Vacation”

This June, after a couple months of manageable aches—which were probably aggravated by aquacize, carrying heavy groceries, and a very aggressive therapeutic massage—I was suddenly in agonizing pain. And that surprised me, because I thought I was “doing everything right”.

In January I had decreased my work week at my job from 5 days a week to 3, in order to pro-actively help my arms, shoulder and neck get back on the road to healing. Sitting at a computer 8 hours a day has been causing me problems for 2 years now, and although I’d been paying more attention to taking breaks and stretching my arms and wrists, I figured that the extra 2 days off would do me even more good. I increased my tutoring jobs and decreased my time at the computer, trading the keyboard for my pen and paper as much as possible when I wrote. Since then, my co-workers have made comments such as, “Must be nice to have those 2 days off to relax”. But I’d usually respond in all honesty that it was nice to come back to work to get a rest from all the writing and tutoring activities I try to cram in 2 days.

But for two months of this summer I was in such desperate pain almost all the time, that I thought I’d have to quit my job altogether. From June through August I struggled with sharp pain in my arm, shoulder, underarm and neck, made all the more severe by sitting at a computer and sitting in cars. I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything except lay down with ice. Now, when a co-worker would grin and ask me how my “days off” were, I’d roll my eyes and say that I spent them at doctors’ appointments, trying to get to the bottom of what was causing so much trouble.

No medication had any effect, and none of the health care providers could relieve the pain. The shoulder x-ray showed nothing, and the neck x-ray report said “degeneration”, which the doctor attributed to age, and then suggested the problem would probably come and go from now on. My prayer life changed to one of begging and pleading. But all along I’d been convinced that there were nerve issues that no one was addressing, since mobility in my arms and shoulders was relatively unaffected. So I finally decided that a chiropractor would be the one to help with them. And I was right. Ahh, relief! (Thank you, Dr. Kim!)

What I’ve learned after two months of chiropractic/physio/active release/laser/massage therapy several times a week was that I had a combination of issues. Chronic poor posture, combined with aging discs in my neck and back that restricted nerves and blood flow, and severe tendonitis (from—of course—computer work). These had all at the same time reached their limit. Those parts of my body broke down and went on strike.

Now I stand tall with my head up and my shoulders back like a good soldier (and like my dad always tried to encourage when I was little), which surprisingly makes me feel more positive and confident. I stretch those poor muscles in my chest, arms and shoulders that have probably shortened over the years of slouching at the computer, or on the couch to read, or watch TV. I set timers on my home and work computers, reminding me to take breaks every 20-30 minutes. I sleep on my back with a pillow supporting my neck and sit on firmer, straighter chairs with arm rests. And I just ordered a book holder to give my arms a break when I’m reading, my favorite hobby which I am just now able to return to.

When people ask if I went on a holiday this summer, I tell them I went on a stay-cation, which I did in the latter part of August, getting driven to the mountains for a wedding, and driving relatively pain-free to some beautiful parks within about twenty minutes’ drive from home. Sure, it would have been nice to have been able to go hiking and do all those other outdoor activities during this amazing summer of perfect weather. But I’m not complaining a bit.

I feel like a human being again!

Sitting–the new smoking?

A recent article in the newspaper announced that, according to researchers, sitting is the new smoking? Huh? The sub-title explains: “Sedentary behavior raises health risks.” And don’t I know it! (Although I do think the health risks from smoking far outweigh those from sitting.) I am writing this while standing, and hope that my knees and back appreciate it. Let me tell you my experiences with a sedentary lifestyle, something that is typical of us writers.

In spring of 2008 I started a new job which requires me to sit at a computer all day. Mostly a paperless office, I don’t have too many reasons to leave the keyboard to find hard copies of documents, and even communication within the office is frequently done by email and instant message. On top of that, the job is fast-paced and often high-pressured. Yet I did consistently take a thirty minute walk every day at lunch time.

In the spring of 2009, after noticing that in certain rare movements my left upper arm and shoulder were quite painful, I was diagnosed with “frozen shoulder”. The details of the therapy for that problem are another story. Anyway, one day in the fall the frozenness of the joint started to thaw, and I gradually regained complete use of that arm and shoulder.

Early in 2010 I was dealing with sore wrists and a painful right arm, just inside my elbow. The therapist said I didn’t have carpal tunnel, but I did have tennis elbow in both elbows. No fair! I hadn’t even been playing tennis across the street because the weather was so bad, and now that the snow was finally melting, I still wouldn’t get to play! The therapist also explained to me that if your muscles are constantly in one position most of the time (and mine were, at work and at home), those muscles and ligaments that are not being used actually shorten. So I started paying a lot of attention to stretching my wrists, fingers and arms, and walking away from the computer for breaks.

Later in 2010 I got a sudden sharp pain in my knee out of the blue, just walking from one room to another. It went away as fast as it came, but returned now and then for short periods of time. For weeks it was merely a curiosity, but one day I had to leave work from the pain. X-rays showed a build-up of cartilage. Yes, I know I’m aging and I’m falling apart. But this was yet another voice from my body telling me to make some changes. So I negotiated with my company and started taking one day off per week, and now I take off two days a week. I supplement my income in non-sitting jobs (as much as possible). When I am sitting, I have some wonderful Outlook tasks that pop up and tell me to stretch, so I now take more breaks (and longer breaks) to stand and stretch and walk around the office. Here is a wonderful website (coincidentally, the website’s main function is to feature books) that has stretches you can do at work. The sheet on Desk Stretches is my favorite.

Maybe this will be helpful to you. I hope so!