Steph Yiu

Pain in the Neck

I’ve been battling some awful neck and shoulder pain since my early twenties. I injured my right shoulder dancing in high school, made it worse working as a designer (lots of mousing), and wrecked it with remote work (too much computer time).

Over the years, I’ve tried all sorts of weird solutions. First, I got a standing desk with a standing mat. It made a difference. I still use it to this day.

Photo circa 2013, but I am still using the same desk, monitor, stool, and standing mat today.

Then, I got a travel-friendly ergonomic kit, which included a Roost stand, a Logitech keyboard, and mouse (more on the setup here). In 2017 I switched to using my left hand for the mouse. Though it took a bit of training, it really helped.

I’ve also tried an array of “quick fixes” over the years, including physical therapy, massage, break timers, pressure-point / foam rollers, buckwheat pillows, and this bizarre Japanese neck brace that my dad had me test out on a flight.

I can’t believe I’m actually posting this photo on the internet.

They all worked to some extent, but suddenly one day, the pain just went away.

Fritz says: “LIES!”

Ok, I’ll elaborate. Ninety percent of the pain went away. I still feel it from time-to-time, but it went from debilitating and something I complained about all the time, to completely manageable and something I complain about once a month.

What made the difference? Part of it was the ergonomic setup, switching mouse-hands, and taking more breaks at work. But, the real difference came from regular exercise. Yup. No magic bullet here, just working out 3-4 days a week for 6 months.

The first step was to figure out what type of exercise worked best for me. For whatever reason, I had always thought that “real exercise” meant running, cross-fit, going to a gym, or getting a personal trainer. I spent about 3 weeks trying out gyms, cross-fit, various classes, and finally realized that dance and yoga worked best for me. I danced all through high school / college, and learned yoga in my 20s. Both are forms of exercise I’ve actually sustained throughout my life. I love it for the art, and the focus on alignment, technique, and performance.

First, I started practicing Iyengar yoga 2-3 times a week. Iyengar is about precision and alignment, and is often called “furniture yoga” because of the props (ropes, chairs, blocks, straps, bolsters, blankets) used to coach your body into the right position. In addition to the physical workout, it was an education on how to articulate and adjust the muscles and bones in my body. It was kinesthetic intelligence I never had before.

Second, I started to practice ballet weekly at a local dance center, with the goal of getting on pointe next year. If Iyengar is the fundamental of yoga, ballet is the fundamental of dance. It is similarly focused on alignment and technique, but in a completely different way. Leaping and turning across the studio is pure joy.

The lack of neck pain I’ve felt at work in the last few months has been life-changing. I give credit to my sabbatical for helping me establish and cultivate a sustainable exercise routine. Now that I’ve been able to keep up the exercise routine for 6 months… the next step is to see if I can maintain it for a lifetime.

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