In the midst of the excitement of taking my three children and running with distant studies, proper computer ergonomics is admittedly out of the mind. We strive to log everyone into their Zoom sessions, troubleshoot technology glitches and keep up with information from more than a dozen teachers.
Although my house was doubled as a temporary school, it was not the same as it should be in the classroom. My high-schooler worked while scattered on a beanbag on the living room floor, hugging his computer. My middle-schooler, laptop pulled, rotates all day from his desk to the kitchen counter to the couch to the backyard table of the patio. My fifth-grade daughter works at a desk often, but her laptop screen is too low, forcing her to look down while she works, and within a few weeks she starts complaining of neck pain.
Earlier in a year of study dramatically altered by the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 30 million public school students engage in virtual education either daily or part time, according to Burbio, a company that monitors school openings nationwide.
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With so many students spending unprecedented long hours on their computers to maintain their grades, experts remind parents that they do not have a proper workstation at home, distance learning can cause pain and pain and potentially lead to injuries over time.
“We don’t think of kids getting recurrent stress injuries or stress or muscle pain injuries like parents and grandparents,” Drs. Theodore Ganley, an orthopedic surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and head of the American Academy of Pediatrics orthopedics section. But kids are “inevitable in these things,” especially if they work on computers every day in bad postures, he said.
“If children are slouched and sitting on their feet from the ground, they are hunched over, they are staring many hours at a time without rest, they can get neck strain, strain on the back, strain on the eyes , “Ganley said. “These are the kinds of things that can affect anyone.”
Doctors know that poor posture while working at a computer can cause discomfort, with pain developing over a short period of time. More serious recurrent stress injuries such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome usually take at least six to 12 months to develop.
Work-related computer-related injuries can be tracked in adults through workers’ compensation claims, but there is no central database that addresses these issues to children, experts said. While children generally do not work as hard on computers as adults do at work, distance learning now requires more children to spend more time on computers than in the past and in a home environment that may not be properly equipped such as a classroom. Exactly how this may affect them is unclear.
Researchers have found that the average age of onset of these injuries declined from the early 40s to the mid-1990s to the early 20’s today, according to ergonomics expert Alan Hedge, a professor emeritus at Cornell University. She worries that children who do a lot of computer work in poor posture may start to have aggravated injuries that may not manifest themselves until they later have injuries, even if they become adults entering the labor force. She is also concerned about the possibility of spinal deformities in young children who spend too much time crouching at a computer while their bones are still developing.
“These injuries tend to be slow and tend to be progressive,” starting as discomfort, then pain, then pain, then injuries, Hedge explains. “So you have time to get in and stop that progress.”
Here’s how you can help your child stay safe.
Encourage them to work in a neutral posture
Learning distance can be challenging, so it can be hard to get kids to sit comfortably at a desk all day with every other stressor they face today. So do your best to help them improve their posture most of the time, experts say. Once they realize how comfortable you are they feel, you can also thank you.
- Ideally, children and adults should maintain a neutral posture while sitting at a computer, with the spine not bent or bent, supported by the lower back and the neck straight.
- The hips and thighs should be almost parallel to the floor, and the feet should be flat and supported, not hanging.
- The arms should breathe comfortably on the sides, with the wrists straight and relaxed.
- The work area should be well lit with a monitor positioned at approximately the length of the arm and at the top of the screen comfortably at eye level.
- To alleviate eye strain, Hedge suggests the 20-20-20 rule, “that every 20 minutes you look more than 20 feet away from you to rest your eyes and blink your eyes for at least 20 seconds lang. “
Desktop computers are easier to adapt to a workstation, but small, portable laptops and tablets used by many children can present ergonomic challenges.
“Technology like a laptop computer is never designed to really be an ergonomic product because when the screen is in a good position, it is quite impossible to use the keyboard,” Hedge said. “And when the keyboard is in a good position, the screen is really hard to use except for a very awkward posture.”
Children working with laptops may need to place a book or box underneath to raise it to a comfortable level. Another option for achieving a neutral posture is to get a holder designed for a laptop or tablet. Children who use laptops or tablets can also benefit from an external keyboard and mouse so they can keep their wrists straight.
An adjustable ergonomic chair can help a child achieve proper positioning on a desk or desk, but these chairs can be expensive and may not be affordable, especially if many people in your household are working from home. An alternative is to equip a regular chair to make it more comfortable for children by using pillows to raise the child or roll towels for lower back support. Children may need to place their feet in a box or footrest.
They continue to rest
Breaks are developed on a normal school day while students do things like play in recess, move classes and walk to lunch. But distance learning can be a long sitting grind with eyes glued to the screen unless you actively plan to separate the sun.
“Try to make sure your kids don’t spend too long, certainly no more than 30 minutes per hour, before they stand up, move, shake things up,” Hedge says.
Dr. recommended. Jennifer Weiss, an orthopedic surgeon at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles, says children will practice exercises, especially activities that encircle the body from a hunched-over position that many fall on while at a computer.
“No. 1 does some kind of counterstretching throughout the day, even at bite sizes,” Weiss said. “So when they break lunch, have them do some counter work, either in the form of putting up a five minute yoga YouTube video for them, whether it’s together as a family and with a plank party, making some lumber and some backbending type of activity. “
Lunch is also a great opportunity to take the whole family on a stimulating walk, game or other activity. Children may lose rest and exercise, but they still need the recommended time or more physical activity a day for overall health.
Ask how they feel
My son told me that his neck hurt, but not all children would say that they felt uncomfortable or itchy while doing computer work, and that they might not be able to make the connection to their workstation.
Red flags include discomfort or pain, usually in the neck, shoulders, back, wrists or hands, as well as tension in the head. If the pain persists even after you have made ergonomic adjustments to your child’s workstation and include rest breaks, experts advise consulting a doctor.
After adjusting my daughter’s workstation to raise her screen, she felt immediately well and has not complained since. Now if only we could remove that beanbag.
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