The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, October 01, 2010

Heads up

I was recently reading an article in The Author magazine by Dr Vic Barker about posture tips for authors. It struck a particular chord because it was talking about the problems of keeping your head and neck in one position when you're sitting at a desk. My own health problems started initially, not with pains in my hand or wrist, but with headaches caused by compacted vertebrae in my neck. Having moved from a relatively mobile job as a teacher, when I started working full-time at a desk, my neck was struggling to keep my head in the same upright position all day. So I ended up craning my neck forward, tortoise-style, thus squishing together a couple of vertebrae and putting pressure on a nerve that resulted in blinding headaches. I didn't realise at the time that it was the precursor of much wider problems to come - all largely the result of a static position at a desk.

As Barker explains, the head is the heaviest part of the body and when you're sitting at a desk, you tend to bend or lean slightly forwards, so the muscles in the back of your neck have to work exceptionally hard to stop your head from drooping onto your chest. He points out that in the past scholars sat on stools with scrolls vertical at eye-level so that their head was supported over their spine.

Barker talks particularly about the problems of shifting from looking at the screen to working on paper. With papers flat on your desk, you find yourself leaning over even further and, of course, putting even greater strain on the neck muscles. He suggests putting papers on a support so that they are nearly vertical, rather like the scribes of old. As I've been working on paper proofs myself for most of this week, I've been using a writing slope to try and keep my posture as upright as possible. As you can see, I don't do too badly at keeping my spine straight, although even being as carefully as possible (and no doubt posing for the camera!) my neck is still slightly bent. I could probably be a bit lower, but as I'm sitting on an exercise ball, I can't control the height.

Of course, if you don't work with hard copy very often, you might not want to invest in a fancy writing slope like I've got. It's still worth lowering your chair though when you're working on paper, so you're leaning over slightly less and you could try using a chunky ring binder to prop the papers up at a slightly better angle. Even if you're only looking at papers for 10 minutes, it's a great excuse to change your posture slightly and work in a bit of a different position for a while.

Dr Vic Barker
"A good stretch: posture tips for authors"- The Author: Journal of the Society of Authors, Autumn 2010
Based on the book: Posture Makes Perfect: the Missing Link in Health and Fitness

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