Women, watch your back | Women's Agenda

Women, watch your back

Fellow women, do you know there is one secret weapon you have that is going to guarantee you a great career, wealth and success?

Don’t know what it is? Well, here it is.

Watch your back.

Now I know bugger all about medicine. But what I do know are the stories shared with me from our senior women who have buggered their backs.

Take one of my friends, a talented senior journalist whom you would all know from the telly, forced to work part time because of excruciating neck pain. There is the senior publisher who sometimes cannot feel her hands because of lower back issues. Or the senior female reporter forced to leave the profession she adored because she literally couldn’t sit at a computer and write stories every day. I could go on.

But I want you to know why I am obsessed with my back and the backs of my female friends, staff and family. And what I do about it.

For myself?

From the first weeks I started my career as a junior reporter I experienced back pain. The reason? I would cock my head to one side to hold the phone in place while I typed interviews, stories and comments into a computer. Do that for a while and you will completely stuff your back and neck.

The other reason was that desks and chairs at the old Melbourne Herald were bought for big blokes, many with generous bellies and long legs. My feet never touched the floor and to ask or use a foot stool would have been to invite ridicule.

So off I started at the physiotherapist, week after week. I resented the cost and the time when so little progress was being made. Then I got pregnant. Pregnancy softens ligaments causing joints to move more than usual. And then of course you stand and sit in different positions to accommodate the growing baby which also throws your back out. By the end of the pregnancy you are dealing with compressed nerves made worse by breast feeding and lifting. You hit your 30s, a disaster waiting to happen.

And then one day I literally came to my senses. I was NOT going to spend my life in pain. So I needed a strategy and a plan. First was strengthening my back. I took up weight lifting and pump classes and do at least two classes a week at the gym. I have since added Body Combat and Attack which is a wimpy form of boxing (well it is the way I do it) but I love it.

Second was strengthening the core so it was off to Pilates which bores me senseless and I don’t go as often as I should (once a fortnight). In fact I cried quietly through my first Pilates class. Not with pain but with the sheer frustration of having to lie around for an hour and do repetitive exercises for something vaguely called my core which I don’t actually believe exists. The things you do for a strong back.

Third was regular visits to the chiro. Due to lugging heavy school bags on one shoulder though my teenage years I literally stand on one leg and keel to the right. So one side of my body carries five more kilos than the other side which is a great recipe for a back out of wack. So off I went once a week to the chiro to get a back tune.

Then I also made sure I added back, shoulder and neck massage once a month. I wanted it vigorous and hard and paid large men and strong women to get right into my muscles and work out the knots.

The other focus was sitting correctly. For the last 15 years I have used headsets and insist on my staff also using them. In fact when I started SmartCompany, visitors from old media would come in and scoff, telling me the place looked like a call centre with staff dutifully talking through their headsets. And then I would watch them hobble out and just roll my eyes. I also check desk height, chair height and make sure my feet are resting on something – all easy stuff to look up on Google.

Sounds like a lot of time and money just to prevent a bad back. But you know what? It worked. I haven’t been to a physio for probably ten years. And I can go a year or so without visiting the chiro. I am pain free almost all of the time despite spending long hours at computers.

Now of course there are lots of reasons for bad backs including genes and faulty design. But a lot of bad backs are just from bad habits. And think of this if you are still not keen to set out on building a strong back.

Throughout your life you will spend the same amount of time and money traipsing off to doctors, physios, oestops, chiros, mythoerapists as you would working on a prevention plan.

Except that journey is also full of pain and the other is pain free. Plus there are all the other benefits from the prevention plan including fitness, great muscle tone, stress relief, good bone density and so on.

So ladies, look to your backs. Share any stories you have about your own back plan and any ideas on how to build a great back in a busy life.

And any tips on how I can find Pilates more interesting would be greatly appreciated.

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