Sunday, February 12, 2012


Sometimes it's hard to figure out priorities appropriately. At other times, the choices are clear. Family and friends and keeping the lights on are on the top of the list. So is one's health.

A few months ago - I can't recall exactly when, but some time in December, I believe - I started having shoulder pain. First just at the end of the day, and I rationalized that as being tired and typing too much. Then it was with me practically all day, annoying some times and debilitating other times. Being pigheaded, I ignored it. Naturally, the pain got worse. Around Christmas, I felt better, but the pain came back the following week with a *really* annoying addition: painful neck spasms. No problem, I thought, as long as I could get a good night's sleep. Clearly, I'm a slow learner. Inevitably, the neck spasms showed up at night, too.

I was in a difficult situation, because nothing I did was comfortable. I couldn't sleep, read, sit, watch TV, type, write in longhand, or work in-world without constant reminders that I wasn't feeling well. Walking wasn't bad, or wasn't as bad, but there was a limit to how long I could keep that up.

It took me some time to understand what was going on. The neck spasms were the result of shoulder muscles that were under constant strain. In a sense, no one activity was doing me in, but rather the fact that I was not giving those muscles a rest by moving from one semi-bad activity to the next. I finally identified various factors that were causing the strain, and hence the tightness in the muscles:

  • reaching for the trackball and trackpad
  • too much typing - at work, at home
  • looking down while working - e.g., having the MacBook on my lap and typing, or holding the iPad well below my face so I had to look down to read
  • failing to take enough breaks from the keyboard to stand and stretch
  • playing games on the phone, all of which required looking down at the screen.

I discovered each one of these things largely through trial and error. I made the mistake of keeping up with my normal schedule of computer work for a few weeks, making adjustments to my workstations to get the monitor at eye level, adjusting the chair to a more ergonomic position, and sitting in the chair with better posture. I took ibuprofen and applied ice to the tight spots. I began cutting back on my in-world time when I couldn't stand it any longer, cut out the games, switch sides of the trackpad, stopped, writing, began standing much of the day at work (let me assure you that htis is very tiring), essentially stopped using the laptop, and so on. I began a variety of stretching exercises for the neck and shoulders.

Eventually, I sensed an improvement. It was gradual, starting with a few good minutes here and there, with plenty of setbacks along the way. Some days were more "one step forward, two steps back" than the reverse.

This was clearly all my fault. I made each one of the bad choices, and I ignored the consequences until things became quite bad. A wiser person would have dealt with the symptoms earlier. An even wiser person wouldn't have had the problem to begin with. Live and learn.

I'm still far from 100 percent. I've kept off the games and try to limit my time in-world to under an hour at a time, with a break in the middle. I continue to stand and stretch frequently at work. (And yes, I realize how fortunate I am to have a job that allows me to do that.) I'm trying to slowly add back things I enjoy doing, and that includes continuing the adventures of a certain blonde neo-Victorian. However, if I'm in-world less, and updating this Aetheric Journal less, that's why.

This is a warning, a cautionary tale, for everyone out there. Don't sacrifice your health by ignoring your body's warning signs. Don't sit slouched in a cheap chair for hours at a time. Don't continue to reach awkwardly for the trackball, or play through the pain. Depending on your age, your body might take the abuse for a longer or shorter time, but it will eventually rebel.

Stay healthy.


Glorf Bulmer said...

Sounds like you're doing the sensible thing! - A tiny little change in your working position(s) can have a huge effect, sometimes. I once had an onset of RSI, and a slight change in the angle of my monitor, and a little bit of support for my elbow, changed things from "yeah, I guess I can manage" to "Oh, yes, this is comfortable".

I think it can't have added up to more than an inch in any one direction... but if I'd done it earlier, I could have avoided spending six weeks with my arm swathed in bandages from wrist to elbow!

Fogwoman Gray said...

Take care of yourself! There is nothing worse than when your body says "enough!".

Rhianon Jameson said...

Thank you, Miss Bulmer and Mrs. Volare. I plan on being scarce from Second Life for a bit, and then we'll see where things are in a few weeks.

I will say that I've been fairly vigilant in adjusting seat height, monitor and keyboard height, arm rests, and the like, and it's made quite a difference. My conclusion is that the human body isn't really made to sit at a desk for many hours a day. :)