EXPERT Q&A

How can I help my child’s back and neck pain caused by e-learning?

E-learning has already caused kids aches and pains. Sara, a pediatric occupational therapist, shares insights on what you can do to help.

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Question

My 6-year-old e-learner has been complaining of back and neck pain for the past few weeks. He’s currently in front of a computer from 8 am-2:30 pm Mon-Fri with two short breaks and a more extended lunch break. We’ve started taking him to a chiropractor once a month but would like to learn what we can do to help him in between sessions.

Answer

Unfortunately, I’m not at all surprised to hear this! Sitting in front of a computer all day can be very straining on our bodies, even little bodies.

When my pediatric patients, who are also virtual learners, voice this complaint, I remind them and their parents that if they were in a “brick and mortar” school, the expectation for a 6-year-old would not be to sit in one position all day. Instead, they would be up and moving by getting a tissue or turning in a paper. They would be transitioning within the classroom, from circle time to reading areas and back to their desks. And, of course, they would be moving around the school, from their classroom to the lunchroom, art room, gym, and cafeteria. With virtual learning, all of this takes place in front of a screen. So, what can we do about it?

Body Mechanics

When the virtual learner is sitting at their desk, make sure their body is at a 90-degree angle (feet firmly on the floor, with knees and hips at 90-degree angles). Also, shoulders should be relaxed, with elbows and forearms supported on the desk at a 90-degree angle. Finally, make sure the learner can look straight ahead, rather than up or down to see the screen, as this can cause a lot of neck strain.

Encourage Movement While Sitting

There are many ways to encourage movement while sitting. For example, have the learner sit on an exercise ball or place a cushion or half-deflated beach ball on the seat to promote shifting weight while sitting. Alternatively, have the student stand while doing some work. A pile of books or an ironing board can make a perfect standing desk. But remember, if they’re standing, make sure your young learner can look straight ahead without having to bend their neck up or down to look at the screen.

Encourage Movement in the Environment

It’s nice to have a little learning station set up, with the water bottle, pencils, tissues, books, and other supplies all at the ready. However, placing these items around the room will provide natural breaks from the learning position.

Learn in Different Positions

 If your learner has independent work time, consider switching positions. One of my favorite times to do this is during reading, by asking the learner to lay on their stomach and prop themselves on their forearms with the book (or tablet) propped in front of them. Does this position sound familiar? It should! Think “tummy time!” And I recommend this position to older kids for some of the same reasons. It strengthens the neck, chest, and upper back muscles while providing a nice counter stretch to the “writing position” at the desk. 

Kids also love to learn upside down, hanging off the couch, wandering around while listening to a story, or hopping up and down. The days of sitting quietly with hands in your lap are over in school buildings, so throw out those rules for virtual learning too!

Movement Breaks

Here’s where you can have some fun. If possible, try to add three 15 minute recesses into the school day. As many virtual students don’t have siblings to play with, you may get some recess fun too. Feel free to let your learner free play, but think back to your favorites such as hopscotch, horse, or races if they are stuck. Then, as the weather gets colder and wetter, look to Pinterest and YouTube for some ideas.

Look up sensory walks on Pinterest or YouTube. And Cosmic Kids Yoga has themed yoga for every kid’s interest, from Frozen to Minecraft.

Keep up with the chiropractor, and if these changes in routine don’t help the pain, consider asking your child’s pediatrician for a referral to a pediatrician occupational therapist.

We hope these tools and resources work for you!

Meet The Expert


Sara Grossenbacher

Sara is a pediatric occupational therapist and former special education teacher who is passionate about working with kids and families to make their lives run smoothly. Her interests include combining researching on child development and milestones and practical solutions to make families’ daily lives easier during mealtime, chores, schedules, grooming & dressing, and play! When she isn’t working, she and her husband can be found chasing their two young children.