During the first part of this year, I started noticing chronic pain in my right knee. My self-prescribed solution was to try walking more, and during the months of June and July, I gradually worked up to 10,000 steps per day. Objective number one appeared to be reached. I haven’t noticed any problems with my knee on a regular basis since then. However, toward the end of the process, I started noticing my neck tightening and hurting at the end of my walks. Four days after I hit my walking goal, I sealed my fate by taking my nephew to Kennywood to ride roller coasters. We rode “The Phantom’s Revenge” twice in the front seat, then I agreed to join him in the back seat, blissfully ignorant of the consequences for someone of what I now understand to be my advanced years. As we went over the last few bumps, I could feel and hear the bones of my neck crunching together, an excruciating experience dutifully documented by the park’s cameras. Within two weeks, I was in constant pain which has stuck with me for the six weeks up until today. Walking 4-5 miles a day helped my knee, but exchanged it for a problem which won’t let me walk 4-5 yards before the pain starts.

Because I had to be reestablished as a patient in the office here, I wasn’t able to see my doctor until last week. X-rays showed arthritis between two discs in my neck (I don’t know whether this was truly the revenge of the Phantom, or if it already existed before my ride). The consensus is that years at the computer have locked my upper body into a forward position and I need to retrain the muscles to pull backward. I started physical therapy a half hour after leaving the doctor’s office.

In addition to doing the stretches and exercises they’ve given me, I’m constantly prodding myself to remember to follow the doctor’s advice to roll my shoulders back and keep my ears over the shoulders, a position which feels as unnatural as it feels painful. I’d say I’m strutting around like Francis X. Bushman, except that you don’t know who that is, so I’d say I’m strutting around like Victor Mature, except that you (hale and hearty as you are) don’t know who that is, either.

I had my second physical therapy appointment yesterday. It didn’t seem like they were doing anything terribly demanding with me, but I found myself shuffling back to the car like one of the less spry 91-year-olds, and feeling a sudden surge of kinship with the patients shuffling in the opposite direction.

Among the things which hurt now (walking, riding in a car, sitting in a chair, breathing), using a computer is one of the most damaging. 12-15 years ago, I had serious lower back problems, with more than one instance of laying on the floor for an hour, unable to move. I gave up the regular use of a chair, alternating between sitting in front of a coffee table in half lotus and standing in front of a dresser, and my back hasn’t given me a moment’s trouble since. Now it’s looking like I need to minimize my computer time while I work on opening myself from my hunched-over position. My go-to answer to computer fatigue for several years has been to shift my work onto paper, writing text out longhand before sending it off to be transcribed, but looking down at a piece of paper now is even more agonizing than looking at a badly-positioned computer screen. I’m experimenting by composing this current text using voice transcription software, but I’m finding it much less satisfying than pen on paper. I’ve started fantasizing about a system which takes my pad of paper on the table and displays it on a screen at eye level, like the overhead projectors in grade school (which you’re again too young to remember).

What other career could I pursue which requires keeping the chin up and the head back? Buckingham Palace guard? Canadian Mountie? Ship’s figurehead?

I’m starting to think the answer may be to fight fire with fire, using the computer to fix the problems I’ve created with it by positioning the keyboard and screen in such a way that I’m forced to roll my shoulders back and place my head squarely on top of my neck. I’m greatly reducing the amount of time I spend at the machine, but am at a loss to think of what other work I could do which would retrain me to keep my ears back over my shoulders and my gaze parallel to the floor. It’s the start of a long road, but maybe the source of my downfall can be my salvation as well.

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6 thoughts on “Heads up

  1. I think finding the right positions for the keyboard and monitor is the right idea. Just reading this makes me straighten up my back and recall my violin teacher from my boyhood and the Tai Chi instructor from my last semester of college. And I might not know who Francis X. Bushman or Victor Mature are, but I do remember the overhead projectors in grade school.

  2. Thanks for sharing. Scanning this article, I immediately remembered a quite brilliant chap from my NJIT days who – thankfully utilizing a bunkbed – was able to layout on the bottom bunk and suspend KV (no M – or Keyboard, Video, no Mouse) from the bottom of the top bunk. Doubt this will fully help your circumstances, but it could be an idea in the right direction? As an example, not sure how he worked around pins and needles in his hands after a period of use? Good Luck and Godspeed

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