Educators and teachers will be returning to work over the next few weeks and months, as the country’s schools reopen and getting back to teaching. But that’s not all good news for Canada’s teachers – especially those who teach preschool-aged children. Back pain is a serious issue for many kindergarten and nursery staff, and a return to work means a return to vigilance about the risks to back health.
Back Pain Risks
A recent study found that nearly 40% of educators have taken time off because of back pain. But while all teachers are at risk of back pain and other musculoskeletal injuries, those that teach young children are most at risk, due to the nature of their work.
Back pain is most commonly caused by:
- Bending over desks
- Sitting in chairs designed for children
- Sitting on the floor without proper support
- Lifting and carrying children and/or classroom equipment
- Using equipment (such as sinks, bathrooms, computers) set up for young children
- Extended periods of time standing, especially on hard surfaces that cause further damage to the feet and lower legs
How to Protect Yourself
Some aspects of working with young children are unavoidable, but there are ways to protect yourself and your back as you move through your day. These fall into three broad categories: preparation, equipment, and movement.
- Arrange the room to minimize unnecessary lifting. Store heavier items in low cupboards. Place lighter children’s items in areas they can reach and ask them to aid in putting things away.
- Avoid heavy lifting and use trolleys or ask for assistance wherever possible.
- Place wheels with casters on frequently moved heavy items.
- Ensure changing stations are well set up, clutter free, and at a your elbow height.
- Ensure you have access to a standard height desk and chair for administrative tasks and extended periods of sitting. If this is an issue because of space or budget, try a mobile laptop desk or an adjustable-height desk, and an adjustable-height chair.
- Use support cushions when sitting on the floor.
- Use a specially designed low adult chair when sitting at a low table. Do not use a child’s chair.
- If low tables are used throughout the day, add furniture raisers so children spend part of their day standing, and so you can sit on a regular chair or stool.
- Always make sure your computer is properly positioned, with the screen level with the top of your eyes. Use a book or prop if necessary. Avoid placing your laptop on your lap.
- Wear comfortable, supportive shoes.
- A standing desk, high stool, and other non-traditional pieces of furniture can also make a difference, depending on the age of the children you teach and how much you’re on your feet.
- If you do have to lift a child or classroom equipment, ensure you do so with proper form – bend your knees, keep a straight back, and avoid hunching. If you are unsure if you can lift something, don’t try to!
- Stretch frequently, at least every thirty minutes.
- Avoid stooping wherever possible, and instead crouch on your hips or sit next to your student.
- Avoid twisting and straining your back, or over-extending.
Those most at risk for back pain are those who have experienced it in the past – so prevention is the most important way to keep yourself in good health. A little thought about the set-up of your classroom can go a long way towards saving yourself from preventable injury.