The $148 Hack for a Pain-Free Back
How an Ikea staple, originally designed in 1976, can save your weary, work-from-home back. And no, Ikea is not paying me to say this.
First, an apology for the radio silence since my last missive in late December: in the midst of my family’s omicron adventure (upside: ten whole days with all three kids and my daughter’s boyfriend under one roof, none of them able to escape, bwah ha ha; downside: grocery inflation, fear of catching a second round myself as a long-hauler, and so. many. dishes), I started working on a longer, more research-heavy story on ageism that has required more hours of digging than I originally expected. Suffice it to say, it’s hard enough for those targeted as too old to work in corporate America to find new jobs without worrying about their names popping up as being over-the-hill and discriminated against for this when a recruiter googles their name. That story is forthcoming, just as soon as I can talk with a few more subjects and sort through hours of transcripts. Should you also have experienced age discrimination and want to add to my body of research, either on the record or off, please email me at the following address I’ve set up for just this purpose: email@example.com.
Meanwhile, it suddenly occurred to me this past long, MLK weekend that, while I continue to gather data on the heavy-lift ageism story, I can also offer my paid subscribers something useful right now. In fact, I recently found myself urging yet another friend with a bad case of work-from-home back to immediately go out and purchase my secret hack. Which led me to believe that perhaps many of you, too, are similarly suffering from painful backs due to the less-than-ideal ergonomics of your home office/kitchen table/dark closet of one’s own.
Before we get into that, however, I want you to understand that on the aching back front, I’ve tried everything. I also spent way too much money on stopgap solutions. Herewith is an incomplete list of my many failed attempts, over the years, to find a modicum of comfort while working:
I bit the bullet and purchased an expensive Aeron chair.
I tried using a lower-height computer side table as my desk in order to keep my feet firmly planted on the floor. I’m 5’2”, and the average desk height is not made for me or for any woman under 5’7”. I urge you all to read Caroline Criado Perez’s excellent book, Invisible Woman, for some more infuriating facts about how nearly everything in the world, including replacement knees, car safety equipment, medicine, desks, etc., are built for use and/or digestion by a male body. Plus desks were not invented for computers. They were invented for writing longhand on a hard surface. Their primary use is even baked into the name: desca, Medieval Latin, meaning “table to write on.” With your quill.
I went back to my too-high desk and bought a foot rest.
I tried an adjustable height desk. It not only was hard to adjust, it broke within six months.
I tried raising my laptop screen on a metal stand, which I highly recommend for looking half-decent on zooms, but it did not cure my aching back.
I lugged home a large external computer screen on the subway, hooked up my laptop to that, then bought a separate keyboard plus a trackpad and a mouse, just to see if any of these made a difference. (Spoiler alert, they sort of did? But not really? Plus my back hurt in a new way from all that lugging.)
I had myself tested and fitted for a special pair of glasses that allow me to see one focal length clearly, if and only if I sit at the precise ergonomically advantageous distance from my external computer screen. This was also a way of keeping my neck straight while writing instead of constantly tilting my chin up and down with progressive lenses.
I tried a standing desk.
I tried a friend’s treadmill desk, but no. Just no. I don’t know how those of you who walk and type at the same time can do that! I mean, I guess I could rub my belly, pat my head, and juggle knives at the same time, but why?
So! Without further ado, my hack, which is so embarrassingly simple and cheap, I wish I’d tried it first before wasting all that time and money. Ready? It’s this.
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