Taking Care of Your Back for Video Editors, Part 1: The Chair

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Software developers, like video editors, sit a lot. I’ve written before about my challenges with Repetitive  Stress Problems and how I dealt with them. (Awesome chair, great ergonomics, and a Wacom tablet). These problems are more about my wrists, shoulders, and neck.

I fully admit to ignoring everyone’s advice about sitting properly and otherwise taking care of my back, so I expect you’ll probably igrnore this (unless you already have back pain). But you shouldn’t. And maybe some of you will listen and get some tips to help you avoid having to take a daily diet of pain meds just to get through a video edit.

Video editors need good posture

I’ve also always had problems with my back. The first time I threw it out I was 28, playing basketball. Then add in being physically active in a variety of other ways… martial arts, snowboarding, yoga, etc… my back has taken some beatings over the years. And then you factor in working at a job for the last 20 years that has me sitting a lot.

And not sitting very well for most of those 20 years. Hunched over a keyboard and slouching in your chair at the same time is a great way of beating the hell out of your back and the rest of your body. But that was me.

So, after a lot of pain and an MRI showing a couple degraded discs, I’m finally taking my back seriously. This is the first of several blog posts detailing some of the things I’ve learned and what I’m doing for my back. I figure it might help some of you all.

I’ll start with the most obvious thing: Your chair. Not only your chair BUT SITTING UPRIGHT IN IT. It doesn’t help you to have a $1000 chair if you’re going to slouch in it. (which I’m known to be guilty of)

A fully adjustable chair can help video editors reduce back pain

The key thing about the chair is that it’s adjustable in as many ways as possible. This way you can set it up perfectly for your body, which is key. Personally, I have a Steelcase chair which I like, but most high end chairs are very configurable and come in different sizes. (I’m not sure the ‘ball chair’ is going to be good for video editing, but some people love them for normal office work) There are also adjustable standing desks, which allow you to alternate between sitting and standing, which is great. Being in any single position for too long is stressful on your body.

The other key thing is your posture. Actually sitting in the chair correctly. There are slightly different opinions  on what is precisely the best sitting posture (see Part 3 for more on this), but generally, the illustration below is a good upright position. Feet on the ground, knees at right angles, butt all the way back with some spine curvature, but not too much, the shoulders slightly back and the head above the shoulders (not forward as we often do, which puts a lot of strain on the neck. If you keep leaning in to see your monitor, get glasses or move the monitor closer!).

It can also help to have your abdominal muscle engaged to prevent to much curvature in the spine. This can be a little bit of work, but if you’re paying attention to your posture, then it should just come naturally as you maintain the upright position.

You want to sit upright in your chair for good back healthThere’s a little bit of disagreement on how much curvature you should have while sitting. Some folks recommend even less than what you see above. We’ll talk more about it in Part 3.

One other important thing is to take breaks, either walk around or stretch. Sitting for long periods really puts a lot of stress on your discs and is somewhat unnatural for your body, as your ancestors probably weren’t doing a lot of chair sitting. Getting up to walk, do a midday yoga class, or just doing a little stretching every 45 minutes or so will make a big difference. This is one of the reasons a standing desk is helpful.

So that’s it for part 1. Get yourself a good chair and learn how to sit in it! It’ll greatly help you keep a healthy, happy back.

In Part 2 we’ll discuss picking up your keys, sneezing, and other dangers to back health lurking in plain sight.

7 thoughts on “Taking Care of Your Back for Video Editors, Part 1: The Chair”

  1. As I write you back in a neck brace – it wouldn’t surprise me if you receive more comments on this blog than anything you’ve ever written about. One of the real hidden dangers of this is the chronic pain waiting for you at the point in your career when you’re doing what you absolutely love and finally getting paid for it. Sad.

  2. I need someone to just tell me what chair to buy. And that someone can’t be a salesperson! It is ovewhelming the number of chairs out there. I have an exercise ball, but it’s just too distracting to sit on. I have an ergo chair, but I always find myself sliding down into. I can’t feel my 4$$!

  3. As mentioned, I’ve got a Steelcase chair and like it a lot. However, as I said in the article, I also have a tendency of slouching in it. A big part of the problem with sitting is that it doesn’t really engage any muscles, so your hip, abs, back muscles weaken. Proper sitting requires you to engage those muscles, so it’s work. Some muscles will actually be sore if you’re doing it right because they haven’t been engaged for so long. It’s easier to disengage everything and slouch. So unfortunately there’s no magic chair. You still have to make an effort to sit correctly. As for buying one… it’s like buying a car, do your research before you get to the dealership. Then it’s just a matter of test driving a couple of them to figure out exactly what you want. It does help to have a salesperson because they can help you configure it correctly.

  4. Yeah, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. But most of us are invincible until we’re not, so we ignore good ergonomics until we have a problem. But I’m hoping to encourage the conversation so maybe a few more folks take it seriously before they have to.

  5. I found almost immediate relief when I switched over to a “ball chair.” My bad habit is crossing my legs, which pulls on the side of the higher leg from my glutes through my lower back, on that one side. The balance required to sit on the exercise ball forced me to keep my feet on the ground. I figured out how to slouch, but it feels more awkward that slouching in an ordinary chair so I can catch myself sooner!

  6. That’s great. I haven’t tried one but may do so. I think the trick, regardless of the chair, is ‘active’ sitting, where you’re forced to slightly engage your muscles and do a bit of work. Versus what we normally do… just falling into the chair and letting it completely support us.

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