Why my back hurts:
Two "internally disrupted disks" in my spine. I got creamed by an 80 year-old retired UCB chemistry professor while driving my motorcycle to work. It doesn't matter that it was entirely his fault: I did not sit down for two years. My girlfriend and I took a tarp and thermarest pads to the movie theater and set up camp on the floor in the front row. At restaurants I kneeled on a rolled up thermarest. I took double-strength Vicodin two at a time several times a day. On many occasions I needed to wash them down with gin and tonics, which I made in a quart mason jar. It was the only way to get a few hours of relief. I completely understand the people with chronic pain who choose suicide.

How to code when your back hurts:
Here are some suggestions from my two and half years of building ergonomic workstations for myself. The upshot is, you can do it on the cheap if you need to. But if the solution that works best for you is expensive, bite the bullet and spend the bucks. Remember these basic facts: Sitting Hurts. Especially Sitting Still. It hurts less in a good chair. Most "ergonomic" chairs are not good. If your back hurts, it will not go away until you change something: your workstation or your lifestyle. Fix it now. Wiggle your ass all day, every day. Especially while you sit. It feels great, it's good for your back, and it makes you look like a sex machine.

  • Current solution. Perfect for me. Not portable. Expensive. As I write this, I am in a $1400 BackSaver™ chair. This is a very, very comfortable recliner that holds you in "astronaut position", with your feet at about the same height as your head. My monitor is on a Rubbermaid™ monitor arm ($200) which can support up to 75 pounds, and can swing, swivel, extend and tilt. This puts my monitor right in front of me. My keyboard is on my lap, so my wrists are not bent. I have a trackball that's velcro'd in place over the number pad (closed-cell foam gasket glued around perimeter of pad acts as a stand-off to keep the trackball above the keys. I don't use the keypad much, and when I do it's easy to put the trackball on my chest, another natural position.)
    The monitor arm is attached to a desk. It's designed to attach to the back of your desk and extend towards the front. But my chair is parallel to the desk, not under it. So the monitor arm is attached to the front of the desk, and cantilevers out over the chair. Since the desk is lightweight, I have it strapped to the wall. Otherwise it would tip forward. I have a piece of wood under the base of the monitor to tilt it forward further than the arm is designed for. I use a camstrap to hold it onto the arm.
  • Cheap. Cumbersome. Cool. I designed a monitor stand of my own that would allow me to lie down or stand up, or put the monitor in a traditional sit-down position for others. The monitor was fixed in a wooden box. The box was attached to a series of pulleys that allowed me to elevate it to a good height for standing, or lower it for sitting. The box could also tilt forward 90°. This allowed me to lie flat on the floor, on a thermarest pad. A very comfortable way to work, with the keyboard on your lap and the mouse on the floor beside you. (You have to be able to touch-type, and it's not too convenient for referring to documents/books.)
    Lying down is a pretty comfortable way to go; I also liked to have my legs elevated. Good for the low back.
  • Another lie-flat solution. Simple. Cheap. I bought a glass table at a garage sale. The glass is really thick. I used to put my monitor face-down on the table and lay under it. Not as flexible, but very simple. I still read this way; it's lovely to read lying down this way, especially for Ivor Horton's 1200+ page, 5 pound "Beginning Java2".
    Glass that you feel comfortable lying under can be pretty expensive. If you only need a small piece, call around and see what glass shops have lying around. They can also give you advice on what thickness and type to use.
  • More lie-flat, super cheap. My first solution was to use plastic milk crates and lumber to make a monitor stand I could lie under. Should have thought of the glass table sooner. But this has the advantage of being almost free. I had a few two-by-fours around, and some milk crates. (You can always scavenge lumber from the dumpster of a construction site. Scavenging milk crates is dicey; I bought some.)
  • Seating. Recliner. Lafuma. A French company called Lafuma makes a reclining lawn chair that, if you're under six feet, can be comfy. If you're taller, you might need to pad it so that your head or heels are not on the frame. I found one on the web for $125. It's convenient for transporting, e.g. taking to work. (You can set the monitor on the edge of your desk and turn your head to see it. Sub-optimal, but can be done.)
  • Seating. Recliner. Garage sale. For a while I used a garage sale recliner with the desk/monitor arm combo. Recliners vary. They can be amazingly uncomfortable over the long haul. Try it out for a long time before you buy it.
  • Seating. Beanbag. Cheap, and maybe you already have one. This can be a great quick fix. You'll need to do something with your monitor. In a pinch, you can put it on a milk crate between your feet.
Good luck. Find an alternative therapy that works for you: meditation, acupuncture, massage, yoga, physical therapy or chiropractic. If you're in chronic pain, please watch out for depression: both cause similar changes in the brain, and may influence eachother. (Sometimes the same medications are used for both.) There are a lot of possible solutions. You're probably your own best doctor and ergonomist. Best--

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