Make sure your in-home classroom is safe for your spine and neck

  • Dr. David Roberts, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with the NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute, says where children do schoolwork during e-learning is important to prevent injuries.

    Dr. David Roberts, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with the NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute, says where children do schoolwork during e-learning is important to prevent injuries. Courtesy of NorthShore University HealthSystem

Updated 9/2/2020 8:34 AM

Whether your children will start school at home or in-person, you have probably already have carved out a mini-classroom in your home. This is a good time to reevaluate where that space is: On the couch? In their beds? On the kitchen floor?

The answer is important, said Dr. David Roberts, a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon with the NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute, because back, neck, wrist and shoulder pain can develop when kids spend hours in front of a laptop or desktop computer.


To help prevent problems, Dr. Roberts wants to remind parents to keep spinal health top-of-mind by offering these tips:

1. Don't fall victim to tech neck.

Utilizing tablets and laptops during the pandemic has become the norm. While such connectivity is a must-have for remote learning, there's a very real threat to spinal health as a result of muscle strain and misalignment when ergonomically appropriate workstations aren't available. The best course of action is to ensure devices are positioned at eye level, users are taking breaks, and nonacademic screen time is managed to prevent pain and inflammation associated with extended use.

2. Avoid backpacks getting you down.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, at least 14,000 children are treated for backpack-related injuries every year. To prevent injury for those students who are returning to the classroom:

• Always use both shoulder straps when carrying the backpack. The correct use of both wide, well-padded shoulder straps will help distribute the weight of the backpack across the spine. Or, consider a crossbody bag as a good alternative.

• Tighten the straps to keep the load closer to the back.

• Organize the items inside so that heavier items are low and toward the center of the backpack.

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• Lift properly by bending at the knees when picking up a backpack.

3. Get ahead of scoliosis with early diagnosis.

Scoliosis screening are mandated many school districts, but with remote learning and social distancing, such screenings may not take place this year. Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that occurs most often during the growth spurt just before puberty. Moderate scoliosis may be treated with exercise and wearing a medically prescribed brace is sometimes recommended as well. Severe scoliosis usually needs to be corrected with spinal surgery. Watch for uneven shoulders or hips, and make sure your child gets regular scoliosis checkups during visits to their pediatrician so early interventions can be considered.

4. Physical activity is just as important at home.

With many students spending much of their time at home, physical education and athletics may not play as prominent of a role in their school days as it once did. Even without organized sports or recess with classmates, it is vital that children and adolescents remain active to maintain flexibility, prevent obesity, and encourage overall good health. Consider building "P.E. time" into each school day for those students learning remotely. Whether it's a bike ride around the neighborhood or a quick game of soccer with a parent or sibling, the exercise will do their bodies good (and potentially help to prevent injuries when they do return to more active lifestyles).

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