With the COVID-19 pandemic still a significant consideration throughout the U.S., many students are attending school online. Whenever humans engage with screen technology, proper posture and spine health are invariably put at risk depending on use. That spine health and back pain risk can increase due to emotional stress, a generalized lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns and poor posture.
Whether you’re the parent of a young student who is learning remotely this fall or a student yourself — or you’re working from home — understanding ways to minimize your spine injury risk is essential. We need not trade one health concern for others.
Here are four strategies to ensure your spine and body stay healthy:
Sit down. The Wi-Fi signal’s strength should not be the driving force as to where a work or school study station is set up. First and foremost, ensure that your workspace allows you to be seated in a chair with both feet planted on the floor directly in front of you. The device you’re using should then be put on a desk or tabletop directly in front of where you’re seated and should not require you to move into an unnatural body position to view it.
“Unnatural body position” also means that children should not have to sit on their knees or feet to view the screen properly, and adults should be able to comfortably look at the device without “bending” their body to view it. Your body position for this endeavor should appear as a front-facing L — sitting up straight in the chair, not slouching and with your head in the proper upright position. No matter how comfortable it may seem, working on a device for extended periods while laying down is a recipe for back and neck pain. Resist the urge to work from a bed or the couch. Your spine will thank you for it.
[Read: Exercises for Neck Pain Relief.]
Head up. Once you have the proper sitting position dialed in, be sure that you’re viewing your device’s screen at eye level. Bending or craning the neck to look at a screen wreaks havoc on the spine and puts far too much pressure on the neck muscles. When viewing any device screen, be sure that the spine is aligned correctly and that you’re looking straight ahead, not down or up. This will help avoid unnecessary pressure on the neck. Interestingly, improper head or neck positioning while looking at a device screen can also be a headache source. So, if you or a loved one has been battling headaches while working or learning from home, it may not just be the strain on the eyes causing it.
Stretch out. Even when appropriately seated, spending too much time sitting isn’t good for the spine or your overall health. Take frequent breaks, every half hour or so, when possible. Getting up and moving around, gently stretching or walking for a few minutes before getting back to work can do wonders for keeping back pain at bay and for mental clarity. Your spine needs movement to stay healthy, and so does the rest of your body.
Check in. If you’re like most people, you don’t intend to bring pain upon your body by not taking care of it. In the case of remotely learning or working, one of the things that can quickly get away from us is the concept of time. When seated at a computer and working, hours can go by seemingly in the blink of an eye. If this is the case for you or the student under your care, one of the best things you can do is set alarms. Set a “walk break” or “stretch time” alarm so that you’re intentionally focused on building in those breaks. You can also set the alarm for posture or body-alignment check-ins every so often throughout the work or school day to ensure that you’re in the best position for working or learning and for keeping your body healthy.
Though the start to the 2020 school year may not look the same as it did before, there is plenty you can do to ensure your spine and whole body stay healthy through the ups and downs. Yes, even during a pandemic.
More from U.S. News