5 ways for teachers to tackle back and neck pain

Our bodies are out of the habit of standing in front of a class all day, so it's important to manage the change in routine to protect ourselves, says Mark Roberts

Mark Roberts

Back pain

Teachers have spent the majority of the past few months glued to their glutes, which means that stiffness and pain is never far away, even for those previously blessed with flexibility.  

Throughout my time I’ve suffered slipped discs, muscle spasms, chronic neck pain. I’ve seen chiropractors, physios and masseurs. If I was a dog, I’d have been euthanised a long time ago. But living with a wrecked body has taught me how to manage prolonged back and neck pain.

As we make the transition back to teaching in school, back and neck-related woes are likely to appear. Especially if, like me, you ignored all the sensible stuff about good posture, an ergonomic desk set-up and taking frequent breaks. 

Here’s what you can do to return your groaning body to a less painful state:

1. Run or walk

After an exhausting day at work, the last thing you may feel like doing is slipping on your trainers. But the best way to counter the effects of a period of enforced sedentary working is to get the joints moving. A brisk after-work walk or jog will help melt away the worst of a frozen back.

2. Relax differently

Back in lessons, you’ll probably spend a lot less time parked at a desk. So what will you do when you get home? An evening in front of the telly, most likely.

If you’re going to repair the recent damage to your aching musculoskeletal system, you’re going to need to mix things up a bit. Try and spend the first 30 minutes of Netflix lying down on the floor. Or get up every 15 minutes and go for a Malteser.

3. Try simple stretches

Even a short spell of stretching can significantly reduce the aches and pain accumulated during lockdown. Pilates moves like bridges and downward dogs are brilliant, but even just rolling your shoulders can help.

There are loads of good routines on the NHS website. Make sure that you avoid yanking your neck about and stop if you feel sharp pain.

4. Try a cheat’s massage

Sometimes, however, stretches can’t reach the spots that are causing most trouble. And not everyone has a partner to pound their flesh. Even with contortionist manoeuvres, knotted shoulders can be hard to reach yourself.

My lifesaving DIY helper is a product called the Miracle Ball. Lying on the floor, I can get it into the excruciating pit of the arm I use to control my mouse. Best of all is when I get a satisfying crack in the middle of the shoulder blades.

5. Be careful with heat

In search of respite, chronic back sufferers will slip a hot water bottle at the back of their classroom chair. Although it might offer temporary relief, in the long run, heat can exacerbate joint pain.

Lengthy bouts of exposure to heat can open up blood vessels and increase inflammation. So while a quick hot bath, or 10 minutes of a water bottle, before bed can ease strains and spasms, overdoing it might make things worse.

You might think that heading back to school, with less time sitting down, will be enough to have you bouncing about like a new-born gazelle.

But in my experience, niggles, aches and debilitating pain can be difficult to shift. As we move back to normal(ish) teaching, make sure you take decisive steps to manage lingering pain.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Mark Roberts

Latest stories