Top 10 tips to reduce musculoskeletal injury in teachers

Studies show nearly every primary teacher has experienced work-related muscle and joint aches, strains and pain at some point in their career.

By By Lorna Taylor, Chartered Paediatric Physiotherapist

By Lorna Taylor BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy, MCSP, HPC,  a specialist paediatric physiotherapist – who has been working with Voice on back health issues since 2010. 

Studies show nearly every primary teacher has experienced work-related muscle and joint aches, strains and pain at some point in their career. The most common causes of discomfort reported (either exacerbated or caused at work) are:

  • back pain 88%; followed by
  • neck and shoulder pain 73%; and
  • knee pain at 56%.

Musculoskeletal pain is a common cause of staff absence in schools. There is a high risk of short-term problems turning into long-term absence. Productivity is reduced and children’s learning affected, not to mention the burden it places on individual sufferers. Yet, musculoskeletal health and interventions are frequently overlooked in schools. Staff working in schools, particularly those working with younger children, are most at risk, but every teacher can be affected. The “child” environments, together with the added factors of budget restrictions, pupil academic targets, limited understanding of healthier working practices and cultural resistance to change in schools, perhaps leads to little consideration being given to musculoskeletal health and the benefits of ergonomics.

However, safer, healthier working and learning environments can be created and healthy habits developed, leading to positive improvements to the health, safety and well-being of staff and pupils.

In addition, musculoskeletal health interventions:

  • reduce costs;
  • improve staff performance; and
  • maximise children’s learning experiences.

It goes without saying that staff health and well-being should be of upmost importance, after all, aren’t staff the most importance resource a school has? There is now also growing research to support staff well-being with better academic outcomes for students.

So what is ergonomics?

To explain the concept a little more simply, if you gave an adult tennis player a child’s racquet would you expect them to perform at their best? Yes, they may try and do their best, but would the result be as good and would motivation be sustained in the same way as if the dedicated player was supported and offered the right tools to help them do their job and perform well?

I firmly believe that adults working with children should not be using children’s furniture as their only furniture at work; it is both disrespectful and damaging. However, it is not always possible to replace furniture in one go and ergonomics is also about modifying tasks and using equipment you have in the safest and healthiest way possible.

For any health and well-being initiative to have greatest impact, be it to improve mental health or musculoskeletal health, belief in staff and the concept is needed by the leadership team. Also just to note, both emotional and physical aspects health can be targeted together as they influence one another – one intervention can bring many additional benefits to individuals, school and pupils. Have a go!

Advice on cutting the risks of musculoskeletal injury in schools, designed to help you implement practical ideas to save staff money and time.

1)    Never regularly use a laptop flat on a desk or your lap; it should be raised up/on a stand so the top of the screen is at eye level. A separate mouse and keyboard should be used. 

2)    Ensure staff have access to an adult-height desk and office chair and/or appropriate height worktop to use in standing for carrying out admin and/or class preparation. A worktop for use in standing should be set at approx. elbow height. 

3)    All staff regularly using computers should complete a DSE (display screen equipment) risk assessment – this is mandatory and offers further practical advice when working at school and at home.     

4)    Can meetings be held standing? Or make it acceptable for staff to stand up and move if sitting for longer than 30mins. Think 30:30: Limit sitting to 30mins at a time, followed by a 30 second stretch and move. 30:30 applies at home too. 

5)    Staff rest and movement breaks should be encouraged – once back pain has developed, it is much more likely to re-occur. Prevention is the best form of protection.  

6)    Develop a recording system for cumulative strain injury (musculoskeletal pain which develops over time). Encourage staff to report tasks they find difficult – if one member of staff is finding a task challenging, it’s likely others will too. Early intervention and prevention helps prevent long-term problems. 

7)    Consider “back-friendly” equipment, appropriate to each situation, as an essential investment over time. It gives staff the correct tools to help them perform their best, boosts morale and helps prevent injury, eg. Jolly Back low chair, height-adjustable mobile laptop table, perching stool for use in standing, Ergo+ office chair, supportive staffroom seating, floor sitting, PosturePad etc. 

8)    Create safer storage areas – heaviest items should be stored between wrist and elbow height. Cupboard clutter should be limited to allow easier, unrestricted access. Storage sheds should have ramped, rather than stepped, access (a portable wheelchair ramp provides a cost-effective, space-saving solution). Can students safely access their own equipment rather than relying on staff? 

9)    Workstations should be organised so you are comfortable before tasks begin – limit stooping, twisting, crouching, bending over and other awkward postures by correctly adjusting heights of furniture, repositioning equipment, your students or yourself. Be comfortable before you begin.  

10) Lifting and carrying equipment, furniture and books should be thought about too – never struggle, ask for assistance. Can books be transported in a wheeled trolley case? Never carry a heavy bag on one shoulder; use a rucksack or bag worn across your body and swap sides regularly. Open doors fully before you walk through, rather than twisting your spine as you pass through whilst managing heavy or awkward items. I hope you have found this information of interest and help. If so, please do share it! For further information, free resources, product advice and to get in touch, please contact Lorna@jollyback.com or see www.jollyback.com.

Information about resources does not represent an endorsement by Voice. 

Tag: Backs September 2015

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