There are many opinions circulating regarding the successes and failures of students learning from home, and these mostly relate to actual learning and mental health. What has not received enough attention and discussion is the detrimental physical impact of home learning. I’d like to pass on some important insights and remedies to a couple of the main issues, not only from a physiotherapy perspective, but also from observing my own 2 teenagers at home. These problems can readily lead to neck pain, upper or lower back pain, headaches or even migraines. And this doesn’t just apply to our kids – we have seen an incredible increase in people presenting to the clinic over the last month with back and neck pain – all with the same common theme: new working arrangements from home.

Loss of Incidental Movement

During a normal school day children move regularly: getting to and from school, between classes, to and from their lockers, and around the school grounds. This “incidental exercise” is hidden but invaluable. The muscles, ligaments and joints of the body all need regular movement to maintain optimum strength, flexibility, tension and apparent “lack of awareness.” Frequent movement and position changes basically distributes and shares developing pressures and stresses between different body tissues. Without these frequent movement changes occurring, stresses build up on the same body parts without relief, and we can start to become aware of a body part that was previously asymptomatic – even young people are susceptible to this phenomenon.

I recommend that you remind/encourage your children to get up between classes and move – any movement. If there is not much time, then it might be moving from sit to stand 10 times; doing 10 wall push-ups or floor push-ups; bending side to side 10 times; or just standing up and stretching everything back (to reverse the curved sitting posture) – see below.

At recess or lunch the movement should be longer and sitting should be minimised. Don’t sit at the desk eating and then chatting with friends on House Party. Socialisation is absolutely critical for teenagers but many of them could walk and chat on their social platform of choice – ideally walk outside but even walking around the house or at least standing while they chat is better than continuing to sit. Their friends should do it too – walking/standing/workout House Parties – a new trend I’d like to see. The main aim is to have a change of position (and a change of scene).

Some other good examples are: walk to the mailbox and bring in the mail; walk the dog (or a sibling) around the block (doesn’t have to be a massive walk); throw/kick a ball with a sibling or parent; stand in the kitchen a make some lunch.

It really is important to have short intervals of movement regularly throughout the day during home isolation to help prevent aches and pains.

Study Posture

The other pitfall of home learning is poor study posture. Our home chairs, desks and equipment are often not ergonomically ideal. However, some simple tips can help improve your student’s position. Most teenagers I know are using laptops or tablets to undertake their school learning at home. Laptops and tablets are very versatile but terrible for posture. Because the screen is attached to the keyboard it means that your head and neck is tilted down to view the screen. It tends to put your whole back and neck into a curved position, which will often lead to back pain, neck pain or headaches if the position is sustained.

Some simple solutions to counter this problem include:

  • Use a lumbar roll in the lower back (waist position, not down at your tailbone). We have inexpensive lumbar rolls at the clinic
  • Put a book or box under your student’s feet if they do not reach the floor
  • Discourage them from crossing their legs when studying
  • If there is a lull in the class – eg role call, teacher technical difficulties – student should move around, even in the seat. For example, roll shoulders back and forward; tilt pelvis forward and back or side to side; put hands behind head and stretch upper back backwards
  • Occasionally lie on stomach, propped on elbows or pillow for limited periods with laptop on floor in front of student (see below). Start with only a couple of minutes and gradually build up time
  • Occasionally stand with laptop on a high bench (more appropriate if watching/listening to content rather than typing)
  • Set a timer to remind student to stand and stretch back or move preferably every 30-45 mins.
  • Raise the laptop up on a stand or boxes/books and linking it to a wireless keyboard or attaching physically to a keyboard (very inexpensive)
  • Plugging the laptop into a desktop screen – this is the ideal solution – bigger screen means less likely to poke head forward to see/read, and the screen can easily be positioned at eye height. Obviously this is a more expensive solution although screens can be purchased fairly cheaply.

DO NOT sit on the bed with laptop on legs – this is a very bad position

My “Take Home Message”: Get up and move around often.

If you are interested in an “At Home” exercise program for your teenager (or yourself), we can arrange a Telehealth consult and email an appropriate program (with pictures and videos to make it very easy to follow). Likewise, if you would like some specific advice regarding your home study set up, we are also available via Telehealth conference to help identify problems and possible solutions to your study set up. Call either of our clinics for assistance.

Here’s some useful exercises to help, but don’t do if they cause any discomfort:

Jen Higgins

SSPC Physiotherapist

Ph: 9570 8538