After last week’s post about what I personally do when back pain strikes, I went to my amazing osteopath, Betty McKew – and asked her for her expert tips on what freelancers can do to mitigate back pain, and how to treat it when it hits. Above and beyond, her advice, not surprisingly, is NOT to put your bum on a seat all day (which I know I’m guilty of – probably like many of us). “It’s not natural for the body to do this and it’s a very Western thing to be sitting down in a chair all day – so getting up regularly, stretching, moving gently are all going to help your back,” she explains.
What type of stretches are good for stretching out your back if you’re sitting in a chair all the time?
“There are two really good ones. To do the first, get down on your haunches and into a deep squat, letting your tailbone drop to the ground. Aim for your head to be nice and tall which helps to lengthen out and open up the lower back.
It’s also really important to stretch out your hip flexors (see image, right) which get tight from sitting in a chair all the time. These muscles are connected and knitted into your spine and to the discs of the lower back, which can contribute to lower back pain. To do this stretch, stand up, put one foot in front of the other so you are kind of standing in an A frame shape. You want to push your hip and your front knee forward and drop your back knee down, and you can do a stronger stretch by putting one knee on the ground and kneeling, if you have a sore knee you can put it on a pillow. If you’re doing it correctly, you’ll feel the stretch in the front, hip pocket area.”
Is there a type of chair that’s best for avoiding back pain?
There is no perfect chair, and it’s hard to say which chairs will work because everybody is at a different level of strength and stability in their lower back. Some people find sitting on a Swiss ball is good – some people can sit on one for half an hour a day and others find they can sit on it for a long period of time. But you’ll need a chair as well, for whilst it opens up the hip flexors, it requires more of your core, which can be tiring.
What about working on the couch, bed, dining room table? Are these a no-no?
These positions are okay in small amounts but anyone’s going to get sore in one position because we’re just not designed to do that. I think the key is mixing it up rather than getting stuck in a doom spiral with your laptop at the dining room table, or on the couch.
What are your thoughts on sit-stand desks?
They can be a good solution for freelancers. I think using these desks activate more of the muscles that you would normally use if you are just at leisure. It’s great if you can raise it to an ergonomic height for your eye level and so your shoulders can relax. The act of mixing it up and just that extra movement [is great for your back].
What’s best for back pain in terms of heat packs or cold packs? Which works best?
Heat packs and cold packs are both analgesic, and they both help sore muscles – unless it’s freezing weather, in which case a cold pack on the area might make you flinch and tighten up again! Generally, though cold packs have an anti-inflammatory effect, so if you have something that is really aggravated, a cold pack is probably going to be the winner. For nagging aches, cold or heat is good (unless it’s winter in which case you’d choose heat). Alternating between the two is also good. The heat relaxes the muscles, brings more blood into the area, and cold packs contract the capillaries and move the inflammatory particles and the lactic acid out of the area. So it’s often good to start with heat, and finish with cold.
Do painkillers work?
Generally, analgesics, opioids, anti-inflammatories do work. If they don’t work for you then they don’t work for you but generally if you’re not taking them all the time then they tend to have an effect. Plus, if you have escalating pain and it’s really getting to you sometimes having a break from that pain [by taking a painkiller] stops your body from bracing itself so much. So a good system to have at home when you get back pain would be pain relief, manage with heat and cold and do some gentle movement if you can.
When do you get help?
You should absolutely seek further advice and treatment if you feel like the pain is running down a limb, down your leg or down your arm, if you have any numbness or if you have any absolutely really strong or persistent pain.
What do you do for back pain? Share your strategies in the comments!
Hi Rachel and Leo. A random question for AUW: how do you know you are ‘qualified enough’ for the jobs advertised? I still consider myself to be on the beginner/intermediate level of copywriting so how do I push those doubts aside and apply for more involved jobs regardless of past expertise? Lisa
A really good question, Lisa. I get it. You spot a job ad that sounds amazing. You want it so bad you can taste it… but they’re looking for five years’ experience and you only have two. Or they’re looking for certain skills that you definitely don’t have. So you think, ‘Nah, better not’ and move on so as not to waste your time and the job-poster’s – right? We’ve all been there.
But here’s the thing: if we stayed in our box and did the work we were 100 percent qualified for, we’d never grow as a writer or a person. And, punching above our weight is, let’s face it, how most of us began. Sure, maybe you had a piece of paper stating that you were an excellent communications or copywriting student – but until you wrote your first piece for payment, you had nothing to back you but youth and dogged determination.
So should you go for things you’re vastly unqualified for? Well, no. If they’re seeking someone SUPER senior and you’re beginner/intermediate (as you mentioned in your question), that’s a little too ‘pie in the sky’, right? It might be your dream job in say, 5 years time, but you’re better off going for things that are a fit for you NOW.
Should you apply for jobs you can do, but it might be a stretch? That depends. A lot of job-posters put up a heap of criteria and some of it is ‘must-have’ and some of it is ‘nice to have’ – and so you don’t have to fulfil everything. Heck, if you could tick the box on most of the ‘must-haves’ then I would definitely consider applying. While many job-posters want their dream candidate who ticks ALL the boxes on their list, most are realistic. They know not everyone is going to completely fit the bill – and if they like you, think you’d be a good fit for their project / organisation / team, then I’m willing to bet they might overlook some of the things you don’t know, or offer you training, or negotiate some other workaround.
Surely you’ll be doubling your opportunity for employment if you can show the employer that you understand the job description and can back up the skills they are looking for with parallel examples of how your sparkly copy delivered more readers to the client’s website, bumped up their social media following by 400 percent, or increased their bottom line. In short, if you’re not EXACTLY what the role calls for, you need to put in some extra effort to convince the job poster to pop you on the short list.
The other thing to talk about here is confidence. You can dispel your doubts by acknowledging that on top of the degree or study you’ve done, you have a history of paid commissions. You’ve delivered engaging copy already. I’m sure you have happy clients behind you. So there’s nothing to stop you moving confidently towards new opportunities. If there’s a gap in your skillbase – like not being experienced in InDesign or SEO – it’s easy to rectify that; jump online and learn or take a course so you’re ready next time a client asks you. You might also find that having a beautifully-designed website that showcases your work, has testimonials from previous clients and links to all your social media gives you more assurance to move forward.
And on that note, have some self-belief! You’re doing this. You’ve got this, Lisa. Good luck!
How often do you apply for work that’s a bit out of your comfort zone?
As I write this, my lower back is aching on one side, I’m cranky, and I’m contemplating a shot of codeine. I hobbled into my osteo yesterday only to find her receptionist had double-booked my 3pm appointment… never a great thing to hear when you’re in pain. So I’m soldiering on until tomorrow.
I’m no stranger to back pain, and I’m not alone: apparently 80 percent of Australians experience lower back pain at some point in their lives, according to The George Institute for Global Health in Sydney. So I’m guessing some of you out there are in the same boat today.
Here’s the bad news: anti-inflammatories apparently do very little to make you feel better. The good news is, I have some other strategies you could try (although bear in mind I am no expert, so please see a health professional before trying any suggestions below!)
1. Get some professional help. Physiotherapy and the Alexander Technique are both great for teaching you ways to sit and develop new, healthy postural habits. I’m not going to get into the great osteo/chiro debate but I will say I find osteos gentle, you get a massage to warm up your muscles before the adjustments, and I always leave feeling 100 times better. If you’re in Sydney’s inner west, I highly recommend Inner West Osteopathy in Newtown. Ask for Michael or Betty.
2. Get a foam roller. My trainer put me onto these and having one at home has changed my life. This is what mine looks like. They’re not expensive, and you can lie on it so it’s vertically aligned to your spine (a great way to stretch out your chest and feels so good on your back), or you can ‘roll’ your back over it horizontally. Great for relieving tight, painful areas and can be used on hips or legs or wherever you have an ache.
3. Take regular breaks. Those of us in offices – home or otherwise – spend approximately 77 percent of the day seated, which is linked to numerous health problems and isn’t great for your back either. When I was on maternity leave and not sitting much, my back pain all but disappeared and I’ve heard similar anecdotes from many others. If you get into the ‘zone’ and find you can’t remember, download an app that’ll prompt you to get out of your chair at regular intervals like this one.
4. Think ergonomic. We talk about the importance of it, but do we set up our office correctly? I’m halfway there with the correct desk height and screen distance, but office chairs? Forget it. I have dropped so much $$$ on office chairs over the years, from ergonomic kneeling chairs to whizbang Dr Evil style swivel options. At the moment I have a stool – a STOOL! – in my office, with no back support. Even worse, I spend half the time writing on the couch with my laptop on a pillow, or in bed, or on the fly. The two days a week I write at the library are the best work days ever, because I am in a proper chair, at a proper desk.
5. Do some yoga. I love how it makes me feel, I hate doing it. Go figure. But some poses are brilliant for relaxing your back. Try the Sun Salutation, child pose and the two-knee twist – where you lie on the floor on your back, stretch your arms straight out to the side, bend your knees, bring your knees gently to one side and turn your head to the opposite side. Hold it for a while and relax. Then rotate and do the other side.
What are your tried and tested tips for dealing with back pain?
Absolutely. If you’re planning a shift into the digital arena, a basic understanding of WordPress is a must. You can teach yourself (it’s not that hard if you’ve used a CMS before) or do a number of free online courses to get a grounding in it. Many digital editors now ask you to be proficient in it.
They also like creatives who have Mailchimp experience so you can hit the ground running on newsletters – writing, sending, setting up automations, monitoring the metrics. Again, Mailchimp is very intuitive and easy to use, so you could create an account and train yourself. Melbourne-based content creator Stevie Schafer also offers training and a lot of Mailchimp help at her website if you wanted to take that route.
Being able to source images that aren’t going to land your client in hot water down the track by infringing someone’s copyright is also key. You can do this by offering up those you took, buying from an online stock photo library or using photos that exist in the public domain with a Creative Commons licence.
Subs may consider updating their InDesign abilities to keep an edge on their rivals while writers may dabble in a free online course to understand coding basics or learn about harnessing social media analytics so you can add real value when working with marketing and PR clients.
Given my move into digital storytelling, I’m beginning a unit on recording Oral History next month that dovetails nicely with the growing demand for my documentary work. In this way I can illustrate to curators, heritage managers and local council and community groups that as well as being able to film and record interviews, and edit them into an engaging story, I also know how to properly document and archive that footage / audio.
Oh but most of all I would say that clients are looking for an upbeat problem solver with a happy demeanour to add to their busy life.
List members: what are you doing to make yourself more employable?
As I write this, I’m looking at a home office with papers all over the desk, a wall calendar that’s still on last month’s page, and a desk fan that I’ve yet to unplug and pop back in the attic. There’s no space to do anything, so it’s basically screaming, ‘YOU CANNOT WORK HERE, GO AWAY’ every time I look over longingly at the big, chunky wood desk that I chose and paid a squillion for back when we were renovating. Instead, I take my laptop and work on the couch, the kitchen table, in bed, or at a library or cafe. Which is not really what I intended when I designed my beautiful home office.
So, this weekend I’m going to go all Shaynna Blaze on my office. It’s getting the office blitz treatment so I can pull up a chair and hit the ground running come Monday. Here’s my plan.
1. File, file, then file some more. I can’t THINK surrounded by scraps of paper everywhere. The irony is, all the scraps are mine and they all have important things scribbled on them. So the first job is to de-paper the office – file paid bills, pay those waiting for attention, snap pix of my receipts to pop into Rounded, store clippings in their folder, collate bits of research so they’re all with the other relevant story notes. And… breathe.
2. Get rid of all the unnecessary stuff. Currently there is a pile of my son’s hair (baby hair! Who can chuck out trimmed baby hair?), an empty toner box, a pile of books I’m reading for current stories and a selection of other bits and bobs that I swear, just by sitting there, is dragging down my energy. So all of that needs to go somewhere too.
3. Put up the damn pictures. I have a pile of little pictures that I’ve bluetacked to the wall that have fallen down. Or pictures I’ve been meaning to put up forever. This weekend I am going to get the hammer out and sort that pile out once and for all. There is nothing sadder than a pile of pictures and frames on your desk that by rights belong on the wall but never quite make it there. Shaynna would be so cranky with me.
3. Get some good Feng Shui happening. I truly believe when your desk is in the right position, and there’s space and light and the books are all organised according to height (or however you like it), the good ‘chi’ (energy) and the creativity and the positivity can flow. Surely the Chinese can’t have been wrong for the past 6000-odd years? FYI: Feng Shui practitioners say ideally you should face the door when you sit down at your desk. My desk is in kind of a long, skinny thoroughfare but I face a window, and I figure that’s a good start.
4. Get a plant. I love having greenery around me and in my office, and I think having greenery around you promotes calm feelings (and, some say, ‘growth and decisiveness’). That said, I somehow manage to kill almost every plant I buy. Except for succulants. So I’m off to the nursery to get a beautiful, green money tree. Hey, it can’t hurt.
5. Try a standing desk. I’d love to, but my desk is a built-in and so there isn’t really room for me to try one. I have heard they are great for both productivity especially if you work towards a goal of standing for around 4 hours per day (and alternating with periods of being seated).
6. Buy functional storage that frees up desk space. I just purchased a multi-device charging station which enables you to charge a laptop, ipad and phones all in the one cool box set up – and it hides all the cords. Right now, charging all those things takes up pretty much ALL my desk space so this is a fantastic solution.
What are your best home office productivity tips?