Are you sitting comfortably? Probably not. From the age of 20 we are all slouching towards problems with back pain, as a result of the way we sit to work, watch TV, even play computer games. In any one year around 49% of us will suffer back pain lasting for at least 24 hours. And research has shown that those who suffer from back pain are more than twice as likely to also suffer from depression. The results are not unconnected. Back pain is seriously bad news.

I have some personal experience of this. When we were first developing it involved many, many desk-bound, virtually immobile hours and days. I ended up not being able to turn my head at all, and taking breaks every 30 minutes to lie flat on the floor and try to get the stabbing pain in my upper left shoulder to stop, temporarily.

Back pain and exercise

I saw an osteopath without much relief and finally I saw my GP, who prescribed anti-inflammatories and pain killers. I also (rather too late) bought a proper office chair and raised my laptop to eye level. All these things helped, but still I have tingles in one arm, super-tense shoulders and have to be very careful with some forms of exercise. It wasn't my first experience of back/neck problems either. More than 10 years ago an MRI showed degeneration in the discs of my spine.

Orthopaedic therapist Darren Chandler looked unsurprised by my tales of woe. A partner at the Harley Street Spine Clinic he's trained as an osteopath but with a much broader frame of reference. He doesn't believe that patients benefit when they're bounced around through all the different practitioners and theories. His most formative time was two years spent shadowing a consultant orthopaedic radiologist, so he's open to a broad range of treatments. Having had osteopathy that made my neck worse, sensibly enough I wasn't sure. But after a session of massage, manipulation, medical acupuncture and gentle traction, I was as he had predicted “a new woman". He showed me a few simple exercises then we sat and discussed what the best advice is to avoid having to visit his office in the first place.

  • don't get overweight, particularly around the tummy area
  • use an ergonomically-sound chair to work from
  • don't sink into soft settees and sofas. Your knees should not be higher than your hips
  • active exercise is good, but don't over-do anything that involves rotation, e.g. squash, golf, tennis
  • swimming is fine, but breaststroke is not good for neck or lower back. Backstroke is actually the best

If I stick to his rules, and don't overdo it at the computer, I may never need to see him again.