Fortunately or unfortunately I know that I’m not alone in suffering from migraines. Many of you know that I recently participated in a study with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine that studied how a vegan diet and a vegan elimination diet can help eliminate or improve migraines. If there would be any psycho-somatic effect there, I would have had it. I have always noticed a difference in my migraines based on how I eat. I’d also been trying to make the vegan commitment, convinced it is the healthiest diet, for several years. So I’m truly grateful for the study because it got me over the “I can’t do it” mentality and into living my convictions completely. However, my migraines only got marginally better. They weren’t as hard to get rid of, but I still had them. Otherwise I certainly felt better physically and mentally, but my migraines did not disappear.

Last week I was really suffering. Barometric pressure changes usually lead to a migraine for me and many others. I called up massage envy to try to get an appt that evening. All they had was a day slot. I decided to do it anyway because it is a bit hard to write with a migraine. If the massage could help my sinuses I thought I could be more productive. I specifically asked for someone who could do cranial-facial work. Well, thank you universe for sending me to that appt at the time I didn’t want or ask for. Somehow they gave me a massage therapist who was also  first a physical therapist and now an orthopedic surgeon. I know, I know, long story why she told me she works there part time, outside of doing surgeries at Johns Hopkins for the NFL and NBA. I don’t care why, I just know that this woman changed my life.

How did a massage solve the mystery of my migraines?

She took a look at me, felt around a bit on my neck and shoulders and said, “No wonder you have migraines. The weather and allergies certainly don’t help, but you’ve almost cut off blood flow to your brain. cerebral cortex?…” Okay, this is where I get vague on the medical terminology… (Waiting for all my science and doctor friends to tell me the right info!) Basically, she told me that from using my laptop with my head down to look at the screen all the time, I was pinching and blocking everything in my neck and shoulders and not letting fluids, etc… flow the way they’re supposed to. She came up with all of this on her own, before I even told her I was a writer. Then I realized that when I first left my Federation job and wasn’t at the computer so much for a couple of weeks, I didn’t have any headaches.

Then, since I’ve been working furiously on this book, they’ve started again. So I left the appt last week, very sore from the painful but helpful massage, knowing I needed to change my ergonomic situation, as she recommended. Did I do it? No. So after working 8 hours on Sunday, thank you hubby for taking the kids…., I got another headache. So I’m in the waiting room, um…waiting…for her on Monday, in pain from a migraine, unable to work efficiently and looking up ergonomic info on my phone. After another painful session where I could literally feel the fluid in my head moving…I went to the Healthy Back Store for more info and priced out an adjustable stand up / sit down desk. (See Peggy at the Rockville Pike location. They’re really great there.) p.s. She also recommended yoga to get everything flowing through me again.

I still had my migraine the next morning when I set up a new stand up desk using things I already had in my house. I also stretched first thing in the morning. After half an hour, standing and working at the desk, my headache was gone. No drugs, just standing. You may have heard that sitting is killing us. So is the way we use our computers.

I don’t know if you understand the magnitude of this past week. Now that I know the cause of my migraines, I can help prevent them.

Even if you don’t get migraines, do you get that tingling in your neck and shoulders? Do you have a  line of pain down your dominant arm? Those are the symptoms I did know were caused by my poor ergonomics.

Take this, migraines! (Baby punch picture of Slash, courtesy of the great photographer Rachael Silvers).

Baby Power

There are a number of things I’ve learned from this experience:

Desk jobs can kill you and

NOT exercising can cause injury

The wrong set up will cut your productivity, which makes it worth spending time and money on the right set up. The good news is that it doesn’t have to cost you much.

Here are a few requirements for a healthy and ergonomic work station:

When you’re at your keyboard, your arms should be able to stay at a ninety degree angle and your wrists should be able to stay in line with your hands and fingers.

The screen should be at eye level so that you don’t have to lift or lower your head and neck.

See this helpful illustration.

The Healthy Back Store motorized adjustable one is perfect because multiple people can use it and make it right for their height. Also, you can use one space for both standing and sitting. However, if you’re not in the market for spending $1400 on desk…

This is what I did:

It’s easier if you find one surface that already exists at the right height for your monitor or keyboard; because then you only have to adjust for either one or the other, not both. For instance, I discovered that the shelf above my desk is actually the perfect height for my monitor (laptop in this case). So I can put the laptop on there, no rigging necessary. However, the desk below is too low for the ergonomic keyboard I attach to my laptop when I’m writing a lot at home. My solution? Books! Got plenty of those around here! Can’t get cheaper than that!

In addition, my dresser is the perfect height for a keyboard. So, if I want to work in my room (as the office is actually a slash guestroom too…), I put the keyboard and mouse on top of my dresser; behind that I have my jewelry box and then a modern shelf thingamajig I had lying around the house. I turned it sideways and put my laptop on top, which is eye level for me. Originally I was using my daughter’s Baby Bjorn stool that she uses to brush her teeth. But she came home, saw that and put the nix on it. She does have a point that she needs to brush her teeth…So now I use it to put one leg up while I stand during the day, when she won’t know…

Depending on the set up you rig – for sitting and for standing – because you need both options to keep your blood flowing and body healthy…  you can buy a keyboard tray for under your desk (and if that’s the kitchen or dining room table you can even get one that you can put on and take off easily with clamps) if your current desk is too high for your arms to be at the right 90 degree angle while sitting.

What you need for an ergonomic sit-down desk:

  1. Something to hold your monitor at eye level (you can spend money on something fancy for this, or just use books or something like that).
  2. A keyboard tray if your desk isn’t at the right height – and chances are it is not.
  3. An ergonomic keyboard.
  4. Something to put your feet on if your chair doesn’t put you in the right spot to have your legs/knees at a 90 degree angle and your feet flat on the floor.

For a stand-up desk you’ll need:

  1. Something to hold your monitor at eye level, or a shelf that is the right height already.
  2. Something to put your keyboard tray at the right height, or a shelf/desk that is the right height already.
  3. An ergonomic keyboard
  4. Maybe a little stool (or books…) to put one foot up when needed.

A cushy floor mat, like the ones they make for kitchens. I actually just saw an online example of a guy who uses a yoga mat folded in half for this purpose. I’ll have to see if that’s cushiony enough as I really don’t want to buy a $60-$120 floor mat.

See this popular Ikea “hack” version of a stand-up desk. And here are several others.

You can also find examples online of people who made them using common household items, as I did.

There you have it…the solution to my year of constant migraines, not to mention the other arm, neck and shoulder issues I was having…

Whoo – hoo! Who wants to do the happy dance with me?!