Healthy Alternatives to Torture

“I suggest surgery, but I have to warn you, the success rate of this procedure is not…perfect. And there could be complications.”


I blinked at the doctor sitting across from me with a pasted-on smile that said “I’m trying to be polite, but let’s hurry this decision. I have to make up time today.”

“I think I’ll discuss this with my husband, and let you know asap,” I muttered. My heart thumped a crazy beat.

What did I expect from a surgeon? I exited and never went back.

I’d been through many doctors, massage therapists, and physios with little or no relief to my back issues. I was desperate. Let’s face it, what does a writer or an illustrator do when sitting is out of the question for longer than ½ hour? Longer would have been torture, and it’s hard to concentrate on being creative in that state.

I know, I know, you’ve heard me expound upon my glorious stand-up chair.

3 in 1 chair

But the picture of relief isn’t quite complete without the full treatment regime.

For all of you who are determined to relieve (or avoid) back issues due to constant sitting, here’s what I’ve found after years of constant pain in my lower back and investigations into avoiding said pain. Every back is different but this is for lower back pain, around the sacroiliac region.

Enter a different physio. What surprised me the most was the vast difference between physios (and chiropractors for that matter). You have to go through a few, unfortunately, before you find one that works.

This fellow took me past my instinctive guarding in my movements and insisted that I was too young to have this lack in range of motion. I of course argued that he needed to know my history a bit better. However, I thought I’d humour him just this once. His approach was logical enough, to strengthen the tissues around the area to take the strain off the bones, while increasing my range of motion.

But here’s the kicker. If you are as determined as I am to not feel like an eighty-year-old yet, you have to put in the effort. Not much, but there it is. Or you can face the pasted-on smile doctor I mentioned above.

Here are some exercises and stretches that work for me. I couldn’t find the exercises on the internet to show you, before I had to remind myself that I CAN draw. So please refer to the below, rather unprofessional sketches for visual reference. (Especially if you are anything like me – totally visually oriented) Before you start, exercise to warm up the muscles. I go to the gyn and hop on the elliptical or go for a vigorous walk.

Strengthening exercises for lower back:

Lie on your tummy. Stretching your arms ahead of you and legs straight, raise your left arm and right leg for a second or two. Then the other side. Do about 30 to begin and work up. This is really good to strengthen all those itty bitty muscles around the spine.

exercises 6

Do a plank. On your tummy again, raise up on your elbows and toes holding your body straight. Hold for 30 seconds to begin with. Then work up.

exercises 9

The horrible clam exercise! Lie on your side with an elastic around your lower thighs. Open your knees against the restriction. Do fifteen at first and work up.


Stretching exercises for lower back:

Knees folded under you on mat, bow down arms in front reaching. Go into cat stretch. Hold for about 10 seconds. Repeat about 10 times. (I use this many times a day while writing/illustrating. Go into crouching position illustrated below, and feel the stretch on your lower back.

exercises 1

On a mat, fold right leg in front of you, foot under left hip (or pointing that way at least) Lean over your leg. Don’t push it, just feel the stretch on your butt. Hold for about 15 seconds. Work on the other leg the same.

exercises 2

Lie on your back with legs up, bent at knee. Swing them from side to side holding the stretch for about 10 seconds.

exercises 3


And there you have it! Not too hard right? It takes me about 10 minutes after I’ve warmed up. I do it 3 times a week or so. (The cat stretch I do many times a day because it feels good!)


So, do you have any exercises or stretches that enable you to sit for hours in front of a screen?




My Seven Secrets to Ease my Writing Woes

Here I sit in a long line to get into the United States to pick up my much anticipated ‘stand-up’ chair at a fedex depot in Bellingham. I’ve searched long and hard for yet another option for me to use while writing and illustrating, and of course I couldn’t find anything like it in Canada. If you’re like me, you’ve had issues with back pain resulting from the hours spent in a sitting position. So to avoid the delays and paying for the shipping costs, we drove to visit my son in Vancouver, are now dropping across the border for some shopping at the strip malls, and at the same time we will up my chair at a fedex depot.

Oh, how I took those pain-free sitting hours for granted when I was younger! I would spend almost the whole day, totally engrossed in whatever project I was working on, be it writing my fiction stories, illustrating a book, or researching for that book or a writing project. Little did I know about the afflictions I would soon have from those hours of sitting, and just plain age related changes to my lower back.

Now, I know more than I ever wanted to know how the sitting position is probably the worst for backs. My trips to see physiotherapists, chiropractors, x-ray clinics, surgeons, acupuncturists, naturopaths, personal weight trainers, etc. have given me a good idea what works and doesn’t work for my particular problem. But enough whining, here are some of the solutions I’ve come up with!

1) To decrease the strain on my lower back, health professionals and friends have suggested certain exercises. When I stick to them, (I also have an arsenal of excuses why I don’t stick to my exercises all the time) they help to strengthen the small muscles around the spine so it isn’t taking the whole brunt of the sitting abuse.

2) Drugs! Yes, I take ‘em: herbal anti-inflammatories, glucosamine, MSM, topical creams as well as my prescribed drugs. I do hate them though, so I only take them when needed, or I have a deadline of some sort.

3) I have a stand-up desk to go along with my stand-up chair! Or I simply stand and work making sure I support my arms so my shoulders don’t become my next problem area!

stand-up desk

4) I limit my time of pure sitting to about a half hour before I get up and wander about, get a snack, do some stretches etc. Anything to change it up.

5) I have an amazing inflatable ball that I sit on. This is great in that you can change your position by rolling slightly on it, mobilizing your back and strengthening it at the same time.

sitting ball

6) I have a kneeling chair! This distributes your weight on to your knees and puts your back in a slightly curved position. (Which I’m told is good)

kneeling chair

7) And now, last but not least, my stand-up chair! It is still eagerly awaiting its new owners in Bellingham. So to show you what it looks like, I copied a picture off the site. (It also converts into a kneeling chair, which of course I don’t really need as I already have one.) But the leaning position is great because you aren’t putting your back into the dreaded sitting position, while it distributes your weight down your back to your feet as you stand.

stand up chair

I have also heard of treadmill desks whereupon people can work while walking slowly. This would be great, except many things I need to do require my body to be completely still. (i.e. illustrating.)

So…. Your turn! Have you found anything that helps you work at a computer?