Give your back a break

25th August 2000 at 01:00
Rosalind Sharpe finds ways to ease your spine

Not long ago, primary teachers spent their working days standing in front of the class or sitting behind adult-sized desks on proper chairs.

Not any more. One of the least discussed, but most fundamental changes in the profession in recent years has taken its toll, not on teachers' minds or morale, but on their backs and bottoms. Teachers have become sedentary workers, spending a large amount of their time sitting down.

The typical classroom now contains a carpet with a chair on it (usually any old chair; certainly not one chosen for its ergonomic merits). Most whole-class sessions, and part of the daily literacy and numeracy hours, take place with the children gathered on the carpet and the teacher perched on the chair - often leaning forward to make closer contact or twisting sideways to point to the whiteboard. Worse still, in their laudable efforts to get down to the children's level, teachers often use child-sized chairs.

All of these - sitting for long periods, leaning forward, twisting and sitting on tiny chairs that push the knees above the pelvis - are bad for the adult spine. Over time, they can lead to chronic lower back pain or even a disabling injury. But what can you do? As a teacher, you can hardly avoid leaning or sitting.

Swindon chiropractor Mark Blokland treats several teachers and recognises that sitting and leaning are unavoidable. All you can try and do is relieve the cumulative strain the back undergoes during the course of the day and the best way to do that is to remember to move - een if only a little - at frequent intervals.

Try standing every 15 minutes or so and walking around for a minute, or standing and stretching your arms above your head and then leaning from side to side. If your shoulders ache, twine your fingers together behind your back. Mark Blokland suggests explaining to the children why you're doing the exercises and occasionally get them to participate: sitting still is even worse for their spines than it is for yours.

Chiropractors and osteopaths treat back pain by manipulating, massaging and realigning the bones and muscles, especially of the spine. While many people are alarmed at the thought of having their bones "clicked", both therapies are recognised by the medical profession. The Royal College of General Practitioners' guidelines for treating back pain recommend seeing a chiropractor, osteopath or physiotherapist within six weeks of the onset of pain. Nevertheless, the British Medical Journal has reported that many GPs are still reluctant to refer patients to osteopaths or chiropractors, and some still recommend bed rest for back pain - a treatment firmly rejected in the guidelines.

If you consult a therapist privately, expect to pay around pound;40 for an initial consultation, then about pound;30 per treatment. Choose one who belongs to a recognised professional association, such as the British Chiropractic Association; the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy or the British Osteopathic Association. For more details on these organisations, visit: www.chiropractic-uk.co.uk; www.csphysio.org.uk and www.osteopathy.org.


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