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February 27, 2007


Sidelined: I took a spill on a San Francisco hill yesterday -- got a strained left quadriceps and can't walk well. But I was looking forward to meeting a score of techbloggers visiting Adobe today for new tool presentations, early advisory-board projects, and reality checks on how well these new technologies will be understood by the blogosphere. Lots of people I've been reading for years, and today was the chance to see how they think, the people behind the words, away from the bustle of a large conference -- and my leg won't let me go. Bummer. Fortunately the presentations will be in the public record, and I'll start a separate item here linking to their live reporting from the event. I was really looking forward to the interactions, though. More notes in the extended entry here on San Francisco topography, recuperation and preventative techniques.

The following has no direct tech content, but considering how much time most of us spend sitting these days, some of the notes may help in reducing downtime in the future.

I usually walk from Cole Valley in the Haight-Ashbury, up over 17th & Clayton, then down to 7th & Townsend... just over three miles, takes less than an hour at a moderate pace, lets me listen to Chinese lessons, smoke a pipe, think through the day's work. There was a light rain yesterday, and coming down Roosevelt and approaching Corona Heights, at about a 10% grade, there's been a set of plywood boards over a Department of Public Works sidewalk-improvement the last few months. Yesterday it was wet and I stepped on a leaf on the plywood -- whoosh my legs flew out and my body came down, and my left knee was doubled under my body.

It took a moment to catch my breath, and when I got up my left leg couldn't support any weight... if I locked the knee it was fine, no pain, but any bend in the left knee and it would just give way. The quadriceps are those big muscles across the front of the thigh. When my body slammed down atop the bent knee the muscles were stretched beyond their usual range, at great speed and with pressure. The muscles are still attached to the bone, but they're damaged, and will take some time to repair.

Cabbies take Roosevelt, and I managed to flag one down and get over to the office. I was able to get an icepack and some compression, but there were no crutches or canes to take the load off the injured leg. After two hours I just chalked it up and went home, where I could keep the leg elevated.

The first-aid treatment for such injuries is called RICE, for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Ice and compression help slow the bio-activity levels in the injured area, reducing damage and pain. Ibuprofen helps. I've also been doing regular gentle stretching and massage... there's a risk that other parts of the body can get tight as they compensate for the injured area.

But I was lucky, my body was loose -- I had my usual stretching and flexing while getting ready to leave the house, and I also had a good workout that morning too. My quadriceps were stretched beyond their usual range during the fall, but if I hadn't been investing time in increasing their flexibility and strength then the muscles might well have sheared from the bone, requiring surgery to repair.

A fall like that, anyone could take. The only thing we can change is how well we're prepared for it.

Technology professionals are particularly at risk, because we sit so much, use just a small range of postures. I think we've got to put extra attention into maintaining flexibility, and maintaining enough strength to resist injury. Making such investments cheap enough to be sustainable, that's the tricky part.

o Hand-weights were a revelation for me... strap them on while doing housework and you're strengthening the abdomen and back, not just the arms... even an extra two pounds per hand during daily chores gives perceptible results, at almost no extra cost.

o Doorframes can be a great stretching tool, whether hanging by the upper molding, or twisting laterally within them, or hanging forward or back to stretch leg and back muscles. Even ten seconds helps.

o Time spent brushing teeth can easily be double-purposed for stretching and flexing, going into a catcher's squat.

o Why bend when you can squat? It took some conscious effort for me to change habits, but once you decide you're no longer going to bend over to pick something up, it's an easy change to make.

o A weird little New Years Resolution for me is working out well... putting on my socks standing up. No sitting, no leaning against a wall... just focusing on balance while putting on socks. Sounds silly, but I've noticed an improvement in my overall balance since doing so.

I was lucky, with the fall I took -- no back strain, no ligament or bone damage -- just a hyperextended leg muscle to deal with. But slips and falls cause 10% of all injuries, 15% of all accidental deaths -- and those of us who work at computers are more vulnerable than people with more active daily lives. Finding ways to build protection within daily routines seems like a very important thing to do.

Posted by JohnDowdell at February 27, 2007 8:21 AM