Chronic Back Pain and The Writing Life: A Few Remedies

Jane Runs

Cincinnati Mini-Heart Marathon, 2002

Update (9/15/14): I’ve written a new post explaining what eventually resolved all of my back pain problems.


Like most writers, I spend a great deal of time sitting in front of a computer. Every job I’ve held post-college has been a desk job, and my non-work looks exactly like my “real” work—seated, with a laptop.

While I managed to stay active in my twenties as a runner, as time passed, I let other things take priority over exercise. During the last 18 months, I’ve been paying the price with a case of chronic low-back pain. It’s especially frustrating because it prevents me from returning to the exercise I enjoy most: running.

In the hopes of helping other people who may also be suffering, I’d like to share a few remedies I’ve discovered.

1. The DonTigny Method

For any women who suffer from low-back pain, I especially recommend this method. Physical therapist Richard DonTigny offers a program of simple corrections and stretches that focus on the sacroiliac joint, which he believes is at the root of many cases of lower back pain.

I’ve always noticed—especially when I actively ran—that any problems I experienced usually started in my hips. DonTigny’s method helps restore stability and strength to the hips, pelvis, and lower back. It’s helped me immensely.

2. The Egoscue Method

Before discovering DonTigny, I found this post by The Modern Health Monk, 4 (Rarely Used) Things You Can Do Right Now for Immediate Lower Back Pain Relief.

He describes a range of passive stretches called The Egoscue Method, and offers other helpful tips. I won’t rehash it here; you can find it all described in his post, with photos.

After reading the Monk, I bought The Egoscue Method, and have used one particular stretch repeatedly throughout the day—The Counter Stretch. (You can find a good photo & description at this site; visit #9, the very last one on the page.)

I also bought the book on The Gokhale Method, but with both Gokhale & Egoscue, I find it difficult to apply them methodically and comprehensively without having someone monitor my movements and posture, and advise me when I’m off track or engaging in “bad” form.

3. Treadmill Desk

This is a preventative measure rather than a remedy. Sitting for about 8-10 hours per day for 20 years has likely resulted in my current troubles, not to mention it causes a range of health problems I’d like to avoid over the long term. (Read Susan Orlean in The New Yorker to learn about the dangers of sitting.)

So I now work at a treadmill desk at the VQR offices. The desk is a VertDesk; it can be adjusted to any height with the push of a button. Below I use a treadmill base from Lifespan. The two work together beautifully. You can see me in action below.

[If you can’t see the video above, click here. Thanks to Allison Wright for acting as cinematographer.]

However, I must emphasize: nothing about standing at my desk, or walking at my desk, has cured my low-back pain. This is a long-term health decision that I hope will prevent further problems from occurring. I’m not completely back to normal yet, but I hope with enough time and changes to my lifestyle, I can be. It would be nice to call myself a runner again.

What methods work for you? Share in the comments.

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Posted in Work-Life and tagged , , , , .

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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