Take a Brain Break For Your Body

With the end of the year coming, holidays are right around the corner and I’m sure you all are hoping for a “normal” holiday season as much as I am. Normal has been a hard thing to define this year, and one thing that has been as far from normal as anything else is school. Over the past couple of weeks, schools here in Daviess County have gone back to all virtual. While this has been the trend for a lot of schools across the state, I have begun to notice another trend- parents on social media posting about their kids complaining of back and neck pain since going to a virtual school format. Back pain can be caused by a lot of different factors, and that’s a discussion for another time. What I would like to do today is give some simple suggestions for kids having to do all their school online to help negate some of the potential aches and pains that come with it.

#1 Take a break and stretch!

One thing that is lacking in a virtual day at school is the opportunity to get up between subjects and travel to your next classroom. This may come with a sigh of relief to some students, as that walk all the way across the building topped off with a trip up or down the stairs is not exactly the highlight of their day. While these long walks can become burdensome at times (especially when racing against the bell), it provides students with a much-needed break between classes to get up on their feet and move around. While I’m not going to suggest making your child go up and down stairs all day to mimic this, I would suggest using breaks throughout the day to stretch out. Here are 3 exercises I would start with that help counteract some of the unwanted side effects of sitting down all day.

  1. Cat/Camel
  1. Press ups
  1. Rolling 

(Try to roll over from you back to your stomach, and stomach to your back using only your upper body—NO LEGS!! Be sure to do this on both sides) (more pictures for rolling)

#2 Change up the way you sit.

This suggestion goes hand in hand with some of the stuff we discussed in the previous section. One thing that can contribute in developing back pain is being in prolonged positions. I’ve heard it said a lot- “the best posture is your next posture,” and there is a lot of truth to this. Being in one posture for too long can potentially lead to different muscles resting in a shortened position which causes them to tighten up. For instance, sitting in a chair all day long with your hips flexed can cause some of the muscles in your hips to tighten up over time. These hip muscles also attach to the lower part of your spine and can pull on your back, causing pain. Similar issues can also persist in the upper back and neck depending on how you are sitting, and how long you are sitting for. One easy thing you can do to help prevent some of these issues is to change up the way your child is sitting throughout the day.

This is one of my favorite positions to mix in throughout the day to allow a change of posture and counteract any unwanted effects of sitting in a chair all day. I’m not suggesting anyone should be down on one knee all day long. But having your child kneel down for 10-15 minutes during the school day can go a long way in keeping a healthy spine.

#3 Limit screen time.

With school being all online now, kids are forced to stare at a monitor/screen for much longer periods of time than they are accustomed to. Combine online school with time spent on Tik Tok, watching The Office, and playing Minecraft and we are talking about kids potentially getting more than 10 hours a day of screen time. In addition to some of the side effects that come with sitting all day, this insane amount of screen time can disrupt other areas of life- most notably sleep. The biggest way this happens is that the light emission from electronics can suppress the release of melatonin, which is what causes your body to sleep. Without proper sleep, the body can become more prone to injury. Combine this with a school environment that promotes sitting for most of the day and it can become a vicious cycle. I’d like to offer a couple of suggestions that can help negate some of the issues caused by the excessive screen time:

  1. Limit electronics near bedtime. Eliminating TVs and phone use in the “wind-down” time before falling asleep can lead to improve quality of sleep.
  2. Find substitutes for electronics during the day- Yes, eliminating phones, TVs, and video games all together may be a bit extreme. However, substituting a 30-minute walk outside for 30 minutes of video games after spending hours on the laptop can have a lot of benefits in the overall health of your student.

As a PT, this is usually a conversation I have to have with individuals working an 9-5 office job that requires them to sit at a desk all day. But hey, it’s 2020 and we are all adjusting to a new normal. While a lot of the things going on right now are by no means ideal, we can all learn to continue to make the best of the situation and get through this together.

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