Teachers have one of the most important, albeit demanding, jobs. They have to manage educating young people, while simultaneously managing a variety of classroom stressors and distractions. This chronic stress, especially when associated with overpopulated classrooms and high student-to-teacher ratios, can cause neck and back pain. On a daily basis, teachers are bending, squatting, leaning over, and looking at their computer screens for extended periods of time, all factors that also contribute to back pain. Many activities that teachers perform involve having their head down for long stretches, including grading or reading assignments. Here, we provide tips for teachers who are experiencing neck and back pain. By following these tips, you may avoid experiencing the long-term detrimental effects of bad habits and posture.
Tips for Teachers
- Practice Good Posture: For the periods of time when you are both sitting and standing, which constitute most of the time in the classroom, it is important to have the best possible posture. By sitting or standing as straight as you are able, the pressure on the spinal discs is more balanced and the stress on your lower back is offloaded. Hunching over your desk or while standing at the board puts strain on areas of the spine that are not designed to be in that position.
- Use A Standing Desk: While teachers are frequently standing up at the board, there are also hours spent sitting at a desk grading or reading papers. Sitting for long stretches puts pressure on the lower back, and has shown to be more detrimental to the spine than standing or lying down. By using a standing desk, and practicing good posture, the risk of damaging the lower back is minimized.
- Minimize Heavy Lifting: Whether rearranging the classroom, carrying books, or transferring papers from room to room, teachers often carry more weight than the spine is prepared to handle. Lifting heavy objects should be avoided when possible, or done with a lifting partner. When lifting a heavy object is unavoidable, it is vital to lift with your knees as opposed to bending at the waist and using the back to lift. A good tip is to not lift something that weighs more the 20% of your body weight. By safely lifting, the spine is more protected and less likely to experience an injury.
- Safely Move: The discs in the spine are nourished by motion. When there are long periods of inactivity, the discs are deprived of nourishment, and put at risk for degeneration and herniation. Depending on the age group of students you are teaching, the amount of physical movement during the school day varies greatly. If you teach younger children and move more during the day you are at an advantage, if the movements are performed safely. If you have older students, it is important to get up and move at least once an hour, to increase the flow of nutrients to discs.
- Grade Papers at Eye Level: Reading over a desk puts you in a hunched position that is not ideal for spine health. Teachers should hold papers up, or use a stand, to put papers at eye level. Small adjustments like this one are the kind that can make long-term impacts. When considering how much time is spent each day in positions that are detrimental to the spine, it is understandable that back pain would be the result. By changing how your spine is aligned in those hours, you can limit the negative impact on the lower back.
Teachers are at high risk for developing neck and back pain. If you have started experiencing pain in these areas, adopt these tips to see if the adjustments make a difference. If you are experiencing chronic back pain, it may be time to see a professional.
At the Center for Musculoskeletal Disorders, we have extensive experience in treating a wide range of spinal conditions. We use the most minimally invasive treatment options when possible, after evaluating the patient thoroughly.