Physio muscles in on back problems

Specialist brings musculoskeletal healing to stressed out staff of National Challenge school

Adi Bloom

Come into school. Teach a lesson. Do marking. Have a lifetime's back problems solved in a 20-minute session. Teach another lesson.

Teachers at Greenhead High in Keighley, West Yorkshire, were offered the chance to fit long-term musculoskeletal healing between English and double maths this week.

Physiotherapist Jonathan Daniel was invited in for two days to help staff with back, muscle or joint pain.

"I've seen 11 grumbling teachers today," he said. "All kinds of back pain. Typically, they have 15 or 20 years' history of problems.

"They're taking a week off school every time it happens, but never getting to the root of the problem. But a lot of problems are just small niggles. One session of 15 or 20 minutes can clear it up."

The sessions were suggested after Tricia McCarthy, the head, went to see Mr Daniel with her own back problems. "In the past year, 35 people have had time off work for back problems," she said.

"I'm thinking, 'Crikey, that's a lot.' I need my staff in school. If I'm going to raise standards, I need them working with the children."

Greenhead High is a National Challenge school, and Mrs McCarthy believes this has put extra stress on staff. "Teachers are reaching to put things on walls, carrying books home to mark," she said. "There are so many minor stresses and strains on your body, and if you feel under pressure in your job, that's when the pain comes out."

Mr Daniel said back pain was a common cause of early retirement among teachers, and led to hundreds of missed working days.

Louise Rowe, a modern languages teacher, developed neck spasms after hours hunched over exercise books. "Things like that can be nipped in the bud," she said.

Habib Rehman, pastoral manager, used to take time off for back pain. "The physio isn't always next door," he said. "And wherever someone suggests, you go because you're in pain. Here, it just takes 15 minutes. If you're in pain, you're not going to perform well. But if you're healthy, you're fresh and ready to go. I'm well pleased."

Staff absence, pages 28-29


The nature of teachers' work puts them at risk of back problems. To avoid this, physiotherapist Jonathan Daniel recommends the following:

- Avoid staying in the same position for long periods of time

- Avoid slumping at your desk and stooping over tables

- Avoid over-reaching

- Take care when lifting heavy boxes or files

- Bend at the knees so that your legs take most of the weight

- Keep your back straight and the weight close to your body

- Avoid twisting your back when lifting.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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