I’m a teacher with back pain, what can I do?

I’m a teacher, I’ve got back pain, what can I do?

Studies show nearly every primary teacher has experienced work-related muscle and joint aches, strains and pain at some point in their career.

The most common causes of discomfort reported (either caused at or exacerbated at work) are:

  • back pain 88%; followed by neck and shoulder pain 73%; and
  • knee pain at 56%.

Musculoskeletal pain is a common cause of staff absence in schools. There is a high risk of short term problems turning into long term absence. Productivity is reduced and children’s learning affected, not to mention the burden it places on individual sufferers. Yet, musculoskeletal health and practical interventions are frequently overlooked in schools.

Staff working in schools, particularly those working with younger children are most at risk, but every teacher can be affected. The “child” environments, together with the added factors of budget restrictions, pupil academic targets, limited understanding of healthier working practices and cultural resistance to change in schools, perhaps leads to little consideration given to musculoskeletal health and the benefits of ergonomics.

However, safer, healthier working and learning environments can be created and healthy habits developed. This leads to positive improvements in health, safety and well-being for staff and pupils.

In addition to improving wellbeing, safety and health, musculoskeletal health interventions:

  • reduce costs
  • improve staff performance
  • and  maximise children’s learning experiences.

It goes without saying that staff health and wellbeing should be of upmost importance, after all, aren’t staff the most importance resource a school has? There is growing research evidence which supports staff wellbeing with improved academic outcomes for students.

So what is ergonomics and what can I do?

To explain the concept a little more simply, if you gave an adult tennis player a child’s racquet would you expect them to perform at their best?

Yes, they may try and do their best, but would the result be as good and would motivation be sustained in the same way as if the dedicated player was supported and offered the right tools to help them do their job and perform well?

As a physiotherapist, I firmly believe that adults working with children should not be using children’s furniture as their only furniture at work, it is both disrespectful and damaging. However, it is not always possible to replace furniture all in one go and ergonomics is also about modifying tasks and using equipment you have in the safest and healthiest way possible.

For any health and wellbeing initiative to have greatest impact, be it to improve mental health or musculoskeletal health, belief in staff and the concept is needed by the leadership team. Also just to note, both emotional and physical aspects health can be targeted together as they influence one another – one intervention can bring many additional benefits to individuals, school and pupils. Have a go!

Jolly Back gives clear advice on cutting the risks of musculoskeletal injury in schools and offers straight-forward ergonomics advice, please get in touch with individual enquiries. In the meantime, the tips below will help save your back, neck, hips and knees….

  1. Never regularly use a laptop flat on a desk or your lap, it should be raised up/on a stand so the top of the screen is at eye level, a separate mouse and keyboard should be used. This applies when working at home too.
  2. Ensure you have access to an adult height desk and office chair and/or appropriate height worktop to use in standing for carrying out admin and/or class preparation. A worktop for use in standing should be set at approx. elbow height. You should NOT regularly use a child’s desk and table for planning and marking!
  3. All staff regularly using computers should complete a DSE risk assessment – this is mandatory and offers further practical advice when working at school and at home.
  4. Can meetings be held in standing? Or ask if it’s ok to stand up and move if sitting for longer than 30mins. Think 30:30 – Limit sitting to 30mins at a time, followed by a 30 second stretch and move. 30:30 applies at home too.
  5. Staff rest & movement breaks should be encouraged – once back pain has developed it is much more likely to re-occur. Prevention is the best form of protection.
  6. Develop a recording system for cumulative strain injury (musculoskeletal pain which develops over time). Create a system in school where staff can report tasks they find difficult – if one member of staff is finding a task challenging, it’s likely others will too. Early intervention and prevention helps prevent long term problems.
  7. Consider “back-friendly” equipment, appropriate to each situation, as an essential investment over time. It gives staff the correct tools to help them perform their best, boosts morale and helps prevent injury eg. Jolly Back chair, height-adjustable mobile laptop table, perching stool for use in standing, Ergo+ office chair, supportive staff room seating, floor sitting PosturePad cushion etc.
  8. Create safer storage areas – Heaviest items should be stored between wrist and elbow height. Cupboard clutter should be limited to allow easier, unrestricted access. Storage sheds should have ramped, rather than stepped access (a portable wheelchair ramp provides a cost-effective, space saving solution). Can students safely access their own equipment rather than relying on staff?
  9. Workstations should be organised so you are comfortable before tasks begin – limit stooping, twisting, crouching, bending over and other awkward postures by correctly adjusting heights of furniture, repositioning equipment, your students or yourself. Be comfortable before you begin.
  10. Lifting and carrying equipment, furniture and books should be thought about too – never struggle, ask for assistance. Can books be transported in a wheeled trolley case? Never carry a heavy bag on one shoulder, use a rucksack or bag worn across your body and swap sides regularly. Open doors fully before you walk through, rather than twisting your spine as you pass through whilst managing heavy or awkward items.

I hope you have found this information of interest and help. If so, please do share it! For further information, free resources, product advice and to get in touch, please contact Lorna@jollyback.com or see www.jollyback.com

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