Montgomery County, Maryland has some of the most talented clinicians and educators in the country. Annually, many of them miss work due to musculoskeletal injuries. Neck and back pain is at the top of the list as some of the most common reasons associated with missed work. With several weeks off (for some) and summer coming to an end, it’s time to brush up on the importance postural awareness plays on the well-being of the many teachers and clinicians that will be returning to work in the coming weeks. For a healthier neck and back
Dating a SLP (speech language pathologist) who is a school-based clinician, I am acutely aware of the number of bags she carries and how heavy they can get. She has a bag for her laptop, there is a bag for her lunch, another one holds text books and running shoes for after-school work-outs and finally her “regular” bag, containing her wallet/clutch (she’d be proud I remembered that) her keys etc. She manages to carry all of these things every single work-day. Does this sound familiar?
Your non-dominant shoulder will bear most of the weight to allow the dominant upper extremity flexibility to perform functional tasks like opening/closing doors, reaching or holding your coffee. Over time, this uneven weight distribution produces tightness to shoulder muscles as you hike to prevent the strap(s) from slipping down the arm. This may start to affect the mobility of your neck and shoulder, cause numbness down the arm, alter the way you perform lifting tasks and sleeping. Extreme cases include disc degeneration leading to possible surgical interventions and or limited activity tolerance. A great deal of missed days of work are due largely to neck and back pain.
Below are simple tips for a healthier neck and back for your consideration as you return to work:
- Reduce the frequency your have to carry heavy loads by preparing ahead of time. Items (sneakers, text books, binders) that you can leave in the car, retrieving them only when needed, do so. No sense in lugging them everywhere.
- Consider a bag with a laptop pocket. Extremely beneficial for those who must transport laptops to and from school. Additionally, the special pocket will ensure the device does’t shift around, causing more uneven distribution of pressure. I use these bags* to carry my items, but there are plenty of other options out there. *not an endorsement, just a recommendation.
- Stretch the muscles around your neck and shoulders, REGULARLY. This is one of the best and easiest ways to maintain the normal muscle length and improve your posture, and requires little to no equipment and space. Here, you will find a few stretching solutions to help soothe aching neck and shoulder muscles.
If these tips and steps do not completely resolve or relieve your pain, go see a Physical Therapist. An evaluation of your flexibility, strength and posture can help you better understand the nature of your symptoms and identify problem areas. Here’s to a healthy start of another exciting school year. All the best!
Special thanks to my good friend and colleague, Lorena Skelton, PTA for demonstrating these routines, thank you!