Studies state that one time or another, about 80% of the world population experiences some kind of back problems or pain. This is either due to nerve and muscular problems, degenerative disc disease, arthritis or some kind of trauma. Age, poor physical fitness and being overweight may explain some causes of back pain, but the main reason responsible is for sure bad posture.
A lot of jobs require physical efforts like lifting, pushing, or pulling while twisting your spine, but sitting at a desk all day may be just as bad, as a static posture increases stress in the back.
Photographers are for sure high-risk candidates to back pain, either for carrying heavy cameras or bags on their necks or shoulders or by spending a long time at their computers editing images. Every photographer I know always complains about how bad their back hurts after a long shooting session or many hours editing images.
For many years I was one of those photographers with constant back pain. I was always trying to relieve it with pain medication or visits to a chiropractor until the day I woke up with my left arm completely numb. The doctor told me I had two really bad herniated discs in my cervical and that I needed surgery to fix it.
It was not an easy surgery let me tell you; the recovery was long and painful and it all made me realize that I could have avoided reaching this point if I had paid more attention to my posture. So here are some tips I have learned along the way that can help you take better care of your back while doing your photography work, so you can avoid what I went through.
***Disclaimer: please consult your doctor before making any changes or to get information from a professional. The tips here are from the author’s own experience only and dPS is not responsible for any actions taken based on the advice contained within.***
#1 – Trade your shoulder bag for a backpack
A shoulder bag is a signature style for most photojournalists, and it is indeed practical when you need to have easy access to your equipment while on the move. But it is also a big enemy of your posture, as it puts all the weight in one of your shoulders making your spine curved and unbalanced.
Backpacks distribute the weight equally on both shoulders, making it a much better solution for carrying your equipment. Rolling trolleys are an even better option, but they are not as practical if you need to move fast and don’t have smooth terrain.
#2 – Trade the neck strap on your camera for a sling strap
Having a heavy camera and lens hanging from your neck by a strap is obviously a really bad idea. It causes a lot of stress on your neck, leading to issues with either the spinal discs or in the joints of the cervical spine. Sling straps minimize the impact of the camera’s weight, hanging it from the shoulder and across the torso. This makes it easier for you to move around and reach the camera, reducing the impact on your neck.
#3 – Get a good office chair
If you spend a long time working on your computer, then a good office chair is something you must invest in. It is really important that your chair is adjustable, and can be regulated to your size, and the position you adopt in relation to the table and the computer you are working on.
The optimal angle position between your legs and back is around 125 degrees.
Also avoid chairs with wheels that cannot be blocked, as they tend to move back and forward leading you to bad posture while seated. Also, avoid arm rests as they might cause pressure on the elbow tendons leading to tendinitis and ulnar nerve compression.
#4 – Adapt the computer position to your body
Almost everyone uses their computer in the worst possible position as they are most of the time located very low, especially if it is a laptop.
Hunching over and looking down for a long time causes really bad stress on the cervical spine and neck muscles, This can lead to a stiff neck, headaches, and in a long run degenerative spinal problems. The correct thing to do is to place your computer monitor in a position that you can look straight ahead without having to curve your neck.
#5 – Use a pen and tablet instead of a mouse
A mouse is a fundamental piece of hardware for most people’s computer work, but at the same time, it is a bad ergonomic tool. It forces your hand to stay in an unnatural position, leading in the long run, to hand, wrist, shoulder and arm problems like tendinitis and arthritis.
The use of a pen and tablet, besides giving you much better control of design functions in image editing software, allows a much more natural hand position, avoiding health problems.
#6 – Take regular breaks and stretch your body
A common mistake we all make is to stand in the same position for long periods of time whether it is photographing, driving, standing at a desk, or simply just relaxing on the couch.
It is fundamental to take small breaks in your daily activities and simply just stretch, allowing the fibers in your muscles to move and avoid cramps and contracting.
#7 – Get your blood flowing
Poor circulation is the starting point to a lot of really serious health problems. Of course, we would all like to have a healthier life, eat better, and exercise more, but the truth is that it takes a lot of time and discipline.
A great way to overcome this is to turn your regular activities into small exercises.
Simple things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or turn a walk down the street to the coffee shop into a power walk, just by adding more movement to your arms while you walk, can make a big difference in your overall physical condition.
#8 – Always lift with your knees, not your back
Most severe back injuries come from trauma or heavy weight lifting. Trying to pick up something heavy from ground level, using just your back, is a true recipe for a disaster like a herniated disk.
The trick here is to always keep you back straight and use your knees as a lever to lift up the weight. Your legs muscles are much stronger than your back, trust me.
#9 – Adjust your sleeping position
We spend roughly one-third of our lives sleeping, so if we worry about our posture during the day, we should also worry about our posture while we sleep.
Most hard working people I know are so tired when they get to bed, that they just lay down, close their eyes and get to sleep right away. Most of the time that’s in really awkward positions and they spend most of the night wrestling with their pillow or sinking in really bad mattresses.
The best sleeping position is a really controversial discussion as it is a personal thing due to your body shape, weight, breathing difficulties, etc.
We move a lot in our sleep, but whether you sleep most of the time on your back, side or stomach, always try to have a mattress and pillow that keep your spine as straight as possible. You will rest a lot better and wake up a lot more fresh.
#10 – Hydrate yourself properly
Our body is 90% water, but yet we tend to forget how much we need to drink water just to be alive.
If you are a busy person, it’s not easy to reach the 2 liters per day of optimal water intake. But if you just make an effort and carry a water bottle around with you and drink regularly during the day you will see that your internal organs will function a lot better, your skin will look younger and your joints and bones will not get old so fast.
Conclusion – over to you
So there it is, a small list of simple tips that might make a significant change in your life.
They may seem obvious for most people, but the fact is that we are all so busy with our daily life and work routines, that we seem just to forget to take care of ourselves and only realize when it is just too late.
What about you, do you have some tips we could add to this list to help other photographers avoid back problems?