Reduce back and/or neck pain with a 50 cent cardboard box

Virtually all software developers eventually experience neck and/or back pain. Mine gradually increased from light neck pains in 1995/6 to being unable to work one day in 2001. Doctor’s advice: “stop doing what makes it hurt”. Useful…  Earlier today Martin Fowler posted “Back pain is a common issue, but everyone’s pain (and treatment) is different”. Indeed it is, but he also posted a photo that invoked a “Fingernails dragged down a blackboard” response from me. It’s a photo of programmers at work; many IMO asking for neck/back problems in later life.

Let me share the research that has kept me pain free for ten years. I am not qualified in this area, these are just the findings of a long term computer programmer (done little but code from 1981 to 2010, and hope to keep it up until The Singularity makes us obsolete) :

  • Move your screen(s) up to eye level
  • Every time you exercise do neck stretches
  • Read a book on back pain and/ or neck pain.These cover common issues that work for many people; Read the many glowing reviews on Amazon

Screen at Eye Level:

This should be common sense. I work looking forward not down. Peering down compresses neck vertebrae – probably not good for extended periods of time. Commons sense says “mix-it-up if you can”, don’t sit in the same position all day. Personally I alternate between a regular sitting workstation, standing workstation, laptop on a box (or whatever’s handy at the time) and casual surfing using an iPad like a book (not looking down at a laptop). Combined with regular exercise and stretching I still spend almost all waking hours in front of a computer. Of course from time to time I become lazy, and stop stretching after running/cycling; the pain starts creeping back. Returning to regular stretching always cured it (so far, touch wood!)

Sitting workstation:

I use an ergonomic Zody Chair using vesa arm mounts. Yes, I have hauled these to client sites. We just moved house and I don’t have a photo handy

Standing Workstation:

These can be cobbled together very cheaply. Skip those expensive stand/sit combo workstations and build another work area in your home office. The following photo shows a $100 Ikea kit. Notice the two mice? I used to have pain in my mouse button fingers. Learning to use a mouse left handed and swapping between them cured that too. Props to Paul Swan for the mouse tip – he’s a total Genius from my undergrad CompSci degree, now working on the Windows Server team.

Laptop on a box:

The title of this post.  Being in my late thirties peers are starting get aches and pains. Many on Facebook complain of sore necks from laptops. If you listen to only one piece of my advice, Put Your Laptop on a Raised Surface when using it. Oh, and wear sunscreen 🙂 Notice I use a real keyboard and wireless mouse than can be used in either hand – these cost peanuts compared to a Doctor’s visit. This is a great setup for short term client engagements – they always have something to stand a laptop on.

Can a $10 Book from Amazon really help?

The books I purchased in 2001 were an incredible help. I am not suggesting these as an alternative to a Doctor’s advice, just worth considering if your Doctor has been of no help.

Hopefully this post allows some to extend their coding careers. Please take this advice as just that, general common sense advice.

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