As you and your family prepare for another academic year, there's lots to do. But, right up there with buying clothes and school supplies should be preparing your children for school “ergonomically.” This means protecting your child's developing body from musculoskeletal injuries. The best way to do this is by adapting computer work stations, backpacks and work habits. Here's how:
Children not only pack heavy schoolbooks, lunch bags, and running shoes into their backpacks, many of them could also be tucking away band instruments and popular electronics, such as laptops, cellular phones, and MP3 players. Studies show heavy backpacks can lead to back, neck, or shoulder pain, muscle spasms and poor posture.
- Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 10% to 15% of his/her body weight. A heavier backpack causes stooping forward in an attempt to support the additional weight.
- The backpack should never hang more than 4 inches below the waistline. This can increase the weight on the shoulders, causing your child to lean forward when walking.
- A backpack with individualized compartments helps position things most effectively. Pointy or bulky objects should be packed away from the area that will rest on your child’s back. Place the heaviest items closest to the body.
- Bigger backpacks aren’t better. The more room there is, the more your child will carry and the heavier the backpack will be.
- Wear both shoulder straps. Lugging the backpack around with only one strap can cause a shift of weight to one side, leading to neck and muscle spasms and low-back pain.
- Shoulder straps should be adjustable so the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body. Loose straps cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably and cause spinal misalignment and pain.
- Backpack still too heavy? Talk to the teacher. Ask if the heaviest books can be left at school and only lighter handout materials or workbooks be brought home. Or, ask for a second set of text books to keep at home.
Your kids may sit for long periods of time to do schoolwork, surf the Internet, respond to emails and/or play video games. This repetitive stress to their bodies can result in tingling, numbness, pain, excessive fatigue or stiffness in the neck or back. If your children complain of these symptoms they should be taken to the doctor, as it could a sign of progressive nerve and muscle damage.
It's essential to that children learn how to use a keyboard and mouse properly, and have a computer workstation that fits their smaller body dimensions and visual needs.
- Tell your children to sit up straight in their chairs with ears over their shoulders and shoulders over the top of their hips. No slouching.
- Their eyes should be level with, or slightly above, the top of the computer screen; the monitor should be at an arm’s length away from their body.
- Position their bottoms in the middle of their seats, with cushions supporting their lower back, if necessary. Put a box or books underneath their feet so that they aren’t dangling and create a 90-degree angle at their knees.
- Your child may forget to take breaks, so it's your job to make sure she rests her eyes, back, wrists, and neck and stretches every half hour or so.
- Remind your children that pounding on the keyboard is unnecessary and can hurt both them and the keyboard! Using a light touch to type is best.
Be a proactive parent. Improve your children’s ergonomic environment at school and home and kick-off the school year being “Ergo-Wise”.