• Robyn

Are you sitting comfortably?

No, seriously. Are you?

I was about 24 hours into (panic) making a wig, when I lost the ability to turn my head to the left.

It was around two weeks before my major project was due, in the third and final year of university, and in my typical fashion I found myself with too much to do in too little time. Allowing myself three days to make a hand knotted wig from scratch wasn’t completely unrealistic, I finished it, didn’t I? But at what cost? A fully functioning neck? It was a price to pay.

“Ooh, fiddle-dee-dee. How odd. I’ll have to look into this as soon as all this madness is over.”

But I didn’t. The following weeks were filled manically knotting, sculpting, painting, typing etc. I was exclusively dedicated to activities that involved sitting with terrible posture, hunched over something for hours on end, with very little thought of anything else aside from basic primary human function. So, it came as no real shock when a few days later, I then lost the ability to turn my head to the right. What isshocking though, is that once this immobility was symmetrical, for some reason it didn’t seem so much of an issue, and I went about my business for a whole year before I did anything about it.

Most of my days during these 12 months were spent at my “day job”, which involves sitting at a desk for up to nine hours at a time. More often than not, stressed and tensed up. I very much doubt this helped spinal situation, but what can ya do? Girls gotto eat.

The moment of enlightenment came when I was on the phone to my brother one afternoon, complaining about my bad back, when I glanced over the road and saw there is a chiropractic clinic literally opposite my house (talk about “can’t see the forest for the trees”). I went on their website and was delighted to see it’s actually a lot more reasonably priced than I had imagined; there was a special offer of £35 for a private consultation, physical examination, assessment and the first treatment. Bargain.

I was greeted by Dr. Martin Krir: owner, founder, chiropractor. The clinic, Bournemouth Chiropractor Clinic, had been established long before I was born so I felt I was in safe hands. The consultation was lengthy, and in depth. As was the examination. Martin, himself, is a real character and I found the whole process fascinating as well as a little amusing. I dared to cross my legs (in a lady like fashion) at one point, he immediately batted my knee back into position, “don’t ever cross your legs” he automatically quipped, interrupting himself mid-sentence.

It turned out there was a whole lot more going on with m’backbone than I’d realised. I couldn’t lift my arms up straight over my head, I had limited mobility when moving my neck forwards and backwards (as well as left to right), my lower back was all kind of wrong, my hips and pelvis were all over the shop andI had one leg longer than the other. Significantly.

Dr. Krir began by adjusting my neck. Oh. My. God. I thought I had died. Has he killed me? It was so loud, and…violent. How could I still be alive? Oh look! I can move my neck again.And it was glorious! I felt like an owl. Or Regan in that scene in The Exorcist.

The same kind of intensely shocking, violent (but not painful), relief came again when adjusting my hips, lower back and with the use of some sort of hammer between my shoulder blades. The doctor took before and after photos of how out of alignment my hips were, which in turn had led to the appearance of having one leg longer than the other.

It’s difficult to put into words how grateful I am that this is something I was able to get sorted out easily, quickly, relatively cheaply and without taking medication. I didn’t realise quite what a state I’d gotten my body into until it was back to feeling relatively “normal” again. Although I received immediate relief and improvement, it’s not something that’s corrected in a one-off adjustment, Dr. Krir predicts I’ll need 5-7. And at £38 a pop for subsequent adjustments, the health of my neck and back isn’t something I’ll be taking lightly from now on.

Although I accept this is something I am responsible for, I can’t help but feel there should at least be some sort of “please don’t cripple yourself” awareness course at universities, especially on courses like the one I did. Any sort of craft that involves sitting and concentrating for long periods of time runs the risk of doing serious damage. When faced with a looming deadline and massive workload, what uni student hasn’t pulled an all-nighter? Or worse?

According to the Office for National Statistics, almost 31m work days were lost in the UK in 2016 due to musculoskeletal problems including back pain.The costs attributable to back pain in the UK are estimated at £12.3bn a year, with £1.6bn spent on treatment. Surely, it’s worth introducing some basic advice into the educational system, particularly in courses where students are at risk of causing damage to themselves during the actual course itself! Considering the outrageous cost of degree courses these days, I don’t think an hour a term, or even a year, would break the bank. In fact, I think it irresponsible.

As a society, we’re taught it’s perfectly normal to sit at/in front of a desk/computer/console/TV/wig making block (if that’s your jam), and when things in your back department inevitably go awry, it’s again, perfectly normal to take a bunch of nasty-ass painkillers, pester your already overworked GP and take a day/week/month off work. And if you’re really, REALLY lucky, you get to have a giant needle stuck in between your vertebrae. Yay! Of course, there are unfortunate people who have serious injuries or chronic pain conditions which is a whole other kettle of fish. If the average human knew how to not wreck their backs and necks from student age, this would obviously benefit everyone.

Here are some perhaps obvious tips I’ve picked up over the last 12 months of discomfort.

1.Make time to take breaks away from what you’re doing. Get up, make a cup of tea, go for a walk. Try to plan these breathers to break up chunks of time studying or working. Chuncking down actually increase productivity, since you’ll be more inclined to go hell for leather between breaks. Planning ahead will help avoid getting stressed out, which will in turn tighten you up - another undesirable guest at the all-nighter table.

2. Stretch. Shoulder rolls, shrugs, neck rolls, touch your toes, downward facing dog, etc etc.

3. Invest in a proper chair. This is something I’m yet to do but having a posturepedic chair that supports your back correctly and a designated work space is a wise investment if you’re planning on doing a lotof something. Or try sitting on a gym ball. The latter is helpful as it forces you to keep good posture.

4. Stand. This is something I’ve been doing more and more of recently. I find sculpting whilst standing up a lot easier on my neck.

5. Having appropriate stands or bases for whatever you’re doing, so that your focus is more at eyelevel reduces strain on your neck.

6. Become ambidextrous. Or try to as much as possible. The number one cause of chronic back pain is muscle imbalances caused by not using your body in a balanced, symmetrical manner. It will also dramatically improve your work, especially if you’re a sculptor.

7. Don’t sit with your legs crossed. Martin says so.

8. Find a chiropractor.

I know these things are easier said than done and I will most likely struggle to adhere to when (God willing) I am a student again this coming September. However, like most people I have more important things I’d rather spend my money on than endless chiropractor appointments (no matter how secretly satisfying it is...).

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