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Kids learning about back pain from doing school virtually

Davis Bearden, a senior at Westlake High School, learns virtually.  Laptops make it harder to have good posture because you often are looking down on them and are hunched over.

Many kids have been going to school virtually for at least some part of the day for almost a year now because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Virtual school is taking a toll on their backs. 

Megan Redlich, who has a doctorate in physical therapy, and her colleagues at Central Texas Pediatric Orthopedics have noticed more kids coming in with back pain because of the number of hours they are spending hunched over phones, iPads and laptops. 

When the pandemic began, their caseload shrank as people did not want to leave home for in-person appointments; it increased again as they expanded virtual offerings and as kids started going back to playing sports. 

One of the biggest increases is in kids with posture problems because of how they are sitting and the number of hours they are sitting without a break, Redlich says. Kids who go to school in-person are more likely to walk around between classes. They also sit in desks that are made for the size of their bodies.

Megan Redlich has a doctorate of physical therapy and is at Central Texas Pediatric Orthopedics.

Kids at home have been sitting in all kinds of chairs not meant for their body size or have been doing work on their beds or on couches.

What's happening to their backs is similar to someone who pulls back on a finger and holds it there. Eventually, that finger begins to hurt and stays achy after they release it.

Raise a laptop up and use a separate keyboard and mouse to have better posture.

Redlich teaches kids the proper way to sit:

• Feet flat on the ground.

• Knees and hips make an letter "L" with the back and are at a 90 degree angle.

• Elbows are at a 90-degree angle.

• Ears should be stacked over the shoulders, which are stacked over the hips. 

• Shoulders are relaxed and straight back. 

• The monitor or laptop screen is an arm's length away.

• The top of the monitor or laptop screen is level with the eyes.

• Eyes should be looking straight ahead rather than looking down and pulling their neck and head down. 

Keep the monitor arm's length from you. Your feet should sit comfortably on the floor, your hips, knees and elbows at 90-degree angel with your back.

If all of this is not possible because kids' legs are too short for their chairs, use a pillow behind the back of the chair to push the back into more of an "L" shape with the knees and hips. Use a box or a mini-stool for the feet if they are dangling. 

They can use a box to raise the laptop or monitor height to avoid neck or eye strain. 

Redlich also recommends that kids alternate their position and create a standing desk at the kitchen counter or by putting a box under a monitor or laptop to raise it up. If they are using a laptop, raise up the monitor and use a mouse and a separate keyboard if possible.

Parents also should encourage kids to get up and move around every 45 minutes. The body can hold a posture for only 45 minutes before you naturally begin to slouch, she says.

Michaela Weeks, 7, listens to her teacher during a virtual class while at her home in Hutto in October. Kitchen tables are not built like school desks, but adding pillows and boxes can improve the seating.

They also can do some stretching such as the two stretches in the box with this story. 

It's easier for kids to correct bad posture than it is for adults and to get rid of the stiffness that has set in because their tissues are more pliable than adults, she says. Teaching them to sit properly can help them develop muscle memory for good posture instead of slouching for the rest of their lives.

Nicole Villalpando writes about parenting for the American-Statesman. She can be reached at nvillalpando@statesman.com.

Stretch out in the corner of the wall between periods of sitting.

Corner Pectoral Stretch

Position yourself in a corner of a room. The shoulders and elbows are positioned at a 90 degree right angle. Lean your body weight forward to bring your chest bone toward the seam of the wall until a gentle stretch is felt across the chest and shoulders. Before and after extended sitting: Hold this position for 30 seconds. Relax and repeat 3 times.  

Do angel wing stretches against a wall to stretch out between sitting.

Wall Angel Wings

Stand with your back flat against the wall by walking your feet away from the wall and tucking your hips under by bending at the knees slightly. Place your elbows and pinkies on the wall overhead. Move your hands straight up on the wall slowly without letting your back arch or ribs lift and keeping the back of your head touching the wall. Return to the starting position. After the Corner Pectoral Stretch, perform this exercise for 30 seconds. Relax and repeat 3-4 times.

Source: Central Texas Pediatric Orthopedics