The Aches and Pains of Virtual Learning
Life has shifted quite a bit since March of 2020- we're cooped up indoors for long periods of time and are moving less than ever before. We're having to adjust to our new reality, one where our children are spending more time in front of screens for play AND school.
This change has brought along more aches and pains than maybe your child is used to and could be a real problem long term. No need to worry though! We have some great tips on ways to prevent those distance learning aches and keep them from becoming another thing to add to your ever-growing to-do list.
First, let’s talk about WHY we have seen an increase in complaints of neck, upper and low back pain-- pain that seems to be correlated with extended time sitting and less time moving around. Let us introduce you to a concept called creep. Not the spooky kind of creep we see around Halloween, but the definition of creep as it pertains to how the body responds to physical loads.
The human spine is a series of 33 vertebrae (bones) that are held together by ligaments connecting bones to bones, along with tendons connecting muscles to bones. The spine provides support to the trunk and has a natural, balanced curvature to ensure stability as well as mobility.
These tendons and ligaments prefer to be moving rather than held in one position. When ligaments and tendons are put on stretch for long periods of time (i.e. poor sitting posture), creep begins to set in, causing micro-trauma at the tissue level which then creates inflammation and pain.
Think about creep as a rope holding up a piano. Over time, the rope begins to weaken and fray due to the weight of the piano. That fraying is what creep is to your spine- your spine can handle a lot but is not meant to support that type of strain for long periods of time.
The best way to avoid creep is to get ahead of the issue with proper posture and setup of your home learning space, also known as ergonomics. The goal of ergonomics is to support good posture by setting up your desk or workspace in a way that decreases strain on the body and reduces the amount of potential creep.
As you have probably seen demonstrated by your own children and their variations of slumping, there are MANY variations of poor posture, but only one gold standard of “good posture."
VIRTUAL LEARNING POSTURE TIPS
Here is a list of our top tips for laptop and desktop users to ensure there is as little creep happening as possible:
Elevate the computer to eye level with a stand or books to create a neutral head position
Bring the computer close enough to see without tilting your head forward
Keep shoulders back and elbows, hips and knees at a 90-100 degree angle
Use external keyboard and mouse
Support neutral wrist position with arm rests or cushions under the forearms
Adjust the chair so that feet are flat on the ground, or use a foot rest
Setup in an area with natural lighting to prevent eye strain
Drink water consistently throughout the day and take movement breaks every 30-45 minutes
For younger children, activity stations between classes can help keep them moving as well as burn off some stored-up energy to help them focus again. A little bit of sunshine also helps balance mood and improve sleep quality. With so much of our lives indoors these days, be sure to get out and move during the day whenever you can.
Older kids can utilize the following exercises to address the stiffness and weakness that occurs from bending over computers, tablets, books or papers:
Corner Pectoral Stretch
Position yourself in a corner of a room to perform this stretch. The shoulders and elbows are positioned at a 90 degree right angle. Lean your body weight forward to bring chest bone towards the seam of the wall until a gentle stretch is felt across the chest and shoulders.
Hold this position for 30 seconds; Relax and repeat 3 times. Try to perform at least before and after school or before and after extended sitting.
Below, watch our Physical Therapist, Megan Redlich, demonstrate the Corner Stretch.
Wall Angel Wings
Stand with your back flat against the wall by walking your feet away from the wall and scooping your hips under by bending the knees slightly. Place elbows and pinkies on the wall overhead. Without letting the back arch, the ribs to come up or the back of the head to come off the wall, move your hands straight up on the wall slowly over your head, then return to start position.
Hold this position for 30 seconds; Relax and repeat 3 times. Try to perform at least before and after school or after performing the Pectoral Stretch above.
We hope these tips were helpful and will make your child's distance learning experience just a little bit easier. We at CTPO are sending our best wishes for a pain-free school year! If your child struggles with posture or complaints of pain, CTPO Physical Therapy is here to help!
Megan Redlich, PT, DPT, MDT
Central Texas Pediatric Orthopedics
Megan Redlich, PT, DPT, MDT, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy at Central Texas Pediatric Orthopedics, and is here to help get your child back to feeling like a kid!
Click here to learn more about Megan.