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Virtual learning takes physical toll on students at home

Posted at 9:48 PM, Dec 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-07 21:48:01-05

We know virtual learning is mentally hard on kids, but what about physically? If your child is having persistent neck or back pain, it might be related to poor posture and poor body positioning.

At some point during the pandemic, most children across the country were doing some sort of computer-assisted learning. At Children's Hospital of Orange County in Southern California, pediatric physical therapist Ruchi Bagrodia covers posture and seating with kids who are of age.

There are many things they should be doing.

“I always encourage them, a child, to sit at a dining or office table, a chair with a seat back. Their back should be supported,” Bagrodia said.

There are lots of things they shouldn't do.

“Never sitting on the floor, never sitting in bed, never sitting on the couch,” Bagrodia said. “For therapy appointments or learning, it promotes poor posture if you’re in a squishy bean bag chair or couch. You’re never going to sit up well if you’re there for a couple hours. You’ll develop all sorts of kinks and achiness in the neck, the shoulder, the back.”

Many Americans are at home, and these days, many are in chairs a lot. If you're using a device, it matters where you put it.

“The level of the tablet, the height of it matters,” said Bagrodia. “We want it arm’s-lengths away and the top of the screen should be just below your eye level. If you’re on the floor and your tablet is on your lap, you’re going to be looking down at your lap and that can develop shoulder neck pain, achiness.”

When asked about the long-term implications of persistent bad posture, Bagrodia said, “Poor posture is something is that is developed in a 6- or 7-year-old by the time they’re 20, maybe they do have serious back pain or issues.”

While you're repositioning your children, doctors say, pay attention to their mental health too.

“Across all different mental health issues, we’re seeing a marked increase, everything in kids. We’re not just talking one age range, we’re talking young childhood all the way through late teenagers,” says Dr. Christopher Min, a pediatric psychologist.

Dr. Min says kids need the structure, stability and routine that school provides, and that is what's missing for a lot of kids.

“Kids' bodies and brains do really well, “ Dr. Min said. “We’re creatures of habit, when they have that regularity, it’s really great for their brains.”

Dr. Min says try to provide some sort of routine and make sure you incorporate enough physical activity, such as a daily family walk. And he says there are signs when things are not going well for children.

“For kids, a sign of some mental health difficulties is irritability (which) is a symptom of anxiety and depression in kids,” Dr. Min said.

He recommends to pay attention to sleeping and eating habits. While you can't do everything, you can definitely make sure children are consistently physically comfortable while learning at home. That doesn't mean you need a fancy or expensive desk.

“If the chair is too high and their feet is hanging off, then put a box or laundry basket underneath their feet so they’re supported. If the laptop is really low, then put books or something under the laptop to lift it up, put a cushion if the chair is too big, put a pillow, or roll up a sweatshirt and tuck it under the low back for some support,” says Bagrodia.

At the same time, if you are sitting for long periods of time, check your positioning as well, since it appears the work from home life won't be sitting anytime soon.