Preventing at-home learning injuries: A primer in ergonomics

May 26, 2020

Photo: Getty Images

Unless you were already home schooling your children, arguably one of the most challenging things we have been asked to do during the COVID-19 pandemic is keep our children home and help in teaching them. Many school districts are also implementing various forms of education as well. Either way, you and your child or teenager may find yourselves spending a lot of hours a day bent over the kitchen table doing assignments or hunched over a laptop computer screen. It is important to do your best to address ergonomics to prevent neck and back pain. 

Sitting posture

It may be tempting to do your homework lounging on the couch or laying down on your bed, but this is a recipe for neck and back pain. Try to find a chair if your house that is firm and allows you to sit with your knees at a comfortable 90-degree bend and your feet flat on the floor. An office chair with lumbar support would be ideal, but you may consider trying a kitchen table chair and perhaps putting a cushion behind your low back, if necessary. Push the chair in far enough to the table that you are not slouching forward and do your best to sit up straight. A chair with arm rests would be a bonus.

Writing posture

Don’t forget the above regarding writing posture, too. Be sure to try to keep the page close to the edge of the table so you can keep your elbows close to your body. Don’t lean your elbows on the table for too long. And, take breaks to prevent hand and wrist fatigue.

Computer monitors

You’re going to want to put that laptop or monitor up a little higher on your table so the screen is approximately eye level. Place it on a small stack of books if the screen is not adjustable as you will be spending a lot of time watching video lectures. Don’t forget to take breaks or adjust the brightness to reduce eye fatigue.

Keyboards

Try to position your computer’s keyboard within an arms’ reach from where you are while sitting upright in your chair. If possible, bring it close enough that your elbows are able to stay at about 90-degree bends while typing so that you’re not slouching forward to reach. If you only have a small laptop keyboard to use, be sure to take breaks to reduce wrist fatigue as well.

Cell phones

Over the past several years, text neck has become a very identifiable cause of chronic neck pain. Our teenagers are no exception to this phenomenon. Studies have indicated that people commonly use a cell phone while holding their neck in a flexed position. One study estimated that in neutral position the head weighs about 10 lbs. and this increases with bending of the neck to a point where at 30 degrees, the forces acting on the neck are around 40 lbs. and nearly 60 lbs. when bent to 60 degrees! That’s a lot of pressure on your neck.

There are some things you can do to prevent text neck. It starts by remembering to try and take breaks from your phone and to try to vary your activity throughout the day and limit your screen time. When using your phone, try not to hold it in your hands while watching videos. Call people instead of texting and when texting, try to bring your phone up to your eye level rather than dropping your head down. Don’t forget to stand up throughout the day and move around. Practice safe social distancing and go outside for a walk. 

And remember…

Try to get into a routine and set up a schedule. Doing so will help things feel a little more normal and add some much needed structure to your day. 

Don’t forget to take breaks! Get up every 30 minutes to an hour and stand and walk around a bit. Go outside and go for a walk when you can and get some fresh air and sunlight. Stay safe and continue good social distancing practices and we’ll all get through this together. As always, our sports medicine team at Texas Children’s Hospital is always here if you need us to care for your various aches and pains.

Post by:

Daren Molina, MD

One of the keys to a healthy lifestyle is remaining physically active, regardless of age. Sports medicine is about caring for active individuals and helping them to return to their chosen sport as soon as is safely possible, whether that sport is played at a recreational or professional level....

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