Is sitting at your desk killing you?

When I first started writing, I’d write for hours. Literally hours, without moving. I’d get to that white hot place where the story literally pours from my fingers and I couldn’t stop it if I tried. It felt fantastic.Until I tried to get up.

My legs would lock — or worse, get so swollen I could barely bend my knees. My neck felt like it had been set in stone — and my ongoing back issues often got into the mix. Vertebrae popped and snapped and kinked, and I’d feel feel every bit of it. Then I started to feel numbness. First in my hands and feet. Then elsewhere. Nasty nasty business, all of it.

The last time I allowed myself to get to that state was three or four years ago. , I went to my chiropractor  to “get the kinks out,” even though I knew  it was worse than that. I’d gone on a writing binge, and my back felt like it had been formed from two by fours bound together by barbed wire. My hands and feet were going numb. My neck was so stiff I could barely shoulder check.

“I think I overdid it a bit,” I said as I tried to lie down on the table, so he could work on me.

I’d been going to him for a few years. I think my father was the first to go to him from our family (he had long running back issues, relating to bad genetics and too much hard work over his life), but soon we were all going to him. He was a great guy, and always ready with a quick smile and a true concern for our health.

“Let me see,” he said, and began to check my back.

“Hmm,” he said. I tried to turn my head to see if he was still smiling, but I couldn’t.

“Everything all right?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “Like wood.”


“Your back and neck are like chunks of wood,” he said. “What have you been doing?”

“Writing,” I said.

“That’s all?” he asked.

“That’s all.”

“Hmm,” he said again, and I knew, even without seeing his face, that we was not smiling. Not even a little bit.

Long story short, it took weeks for him to get my flexibility back. And then I had to promise, on my honour, that I would NEVER write like that again.

No more six or longer hour stretches without moving. No more weeks and weeks of no exercise. And no more no stretching every night. Absolutely every night.

I bought a yoga mat and my chiropractor gave me a sheet describing all the stretches I would have to do, every night for the rest of my life. Of course I lost that sheet, couldn’t remember half the stretches, and ended back at his office. I wasn’t in as bad shape as I had been before, but still, bad enough.

“Have you been doing the stretches?” he asked.

I confessed I’d lost the sheet, so he gave me another. I followed it religiously for a few months, then lost it again. I was so embarrassed, I went out and found a book of stretches that I still have.

The stretches are really a life saver, but they are not the only thing that I now do, more or less religiously.

On top of the stretches, I make certain that I get up every hour and do something physical. Go out and play with the dogs. Vacuum something. Clean a bathroom. Whatever. Just so I get the blood moving before I go back. At the very least, I walk up and down a flight of stairs a couple of times before I go back to work

I try to remember to exercise at least three times a week. It’s better if I do it every day, but three times a week keeps everything limber.

I use an exercise ball as a chair while I write. This works wonderfully to keep my muscles from seizing up. It looks silly, but it really works.

Believe me, these were some of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn. I LOVE getting to the white hot place where the story is everything… and some days, I can’t get there when I get up every hour. However, I physically feel better, much bette, now, so I sacrifice. And sometimes, I can get there, even if it is for just one hour.

It’s really hard to stop writing and take a break, but I (mostly) do it. I never want to feel that horrible again, and I don’t like making my chiropractor frown. (He’s such a pleasant man!)

Here is an article talking about the dangers of sitting too much.  And the book of stretches? It’s called “Stretching” by Bob Anderson, and can be found everywhere. (This version even has stretching routines for office workers…)

What do you do to keep yourself healthy and limber while you write? Any of this? All of it? None of it? I’d love to hear!