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Practical Tips to Save your Back & Voice

This article was published in Voice The Union’s August 2011 magazine. We are currently working with Lorna Taylor on a training DVD for Education Professionals.

Practical Tips to Save your Back & Voice
by Lorna Taylor, Chartered Physiotherapist, with Gemma Boaden, Vocal Coach & Director of TemperVox Ltd

Since the results of the survey into back/neck pain in early years & primary staff (www.voicetheunion.org.uk/backs) were published, many positive developments have occurred. The study, which attracted national publicity, has helped to raise awareness – but more needs to be done.

Healthy Postures
Our spines are vulnerable. They have to provide strength (to keep us upright) & flexibility (to help us move). A healthy spine looks straight from behind & from the side, a ‘letter S’, ensuring the all important inward, lumbar curve of the lower back is maintained. Healthy postures are comfortable & efficient, helping to reduce pain. Try to maintain your inward lower curve – not just in upright sitting or standing at work!

Do you unload the washing machine & bend using your knees or back? (Hopefully your knees!)

Poor Posture & Voice Strain
Stooping, twisting & sitting with knees higher than hips are common when working with young children. How many times do you bend over a low table?

Flexed, poor postures force the spine into a damaging & unhealthy ‘C’. This can lead to back ache & sciatica with compensatory neck & shoulder pain as, to maintain eye-contact, you naturally life your head.

The importance of good posture is endorsed by vocal coaches TemperVox. (We met at Voice’s ‘Work & Play conference.) They said that poor posture can also be a major contributor to vocal strain. Sound is produced in the vocal tract & amplified in resonant areas of your body. Bad posture can lead to tension, which can be a barrier to vocal vibrations, limiting your vocal power & weakening your voice.

A healthy head, neck & back relationship is key to a healthy voice. From behind, the neck looks straight & for the side the head is in a middle position, – not too far forward or too far back with your ears in line with your shoulders.

Think Prevention
The highest risk factor for back or voice pain is a previous episode. Don’t wait until you have pain If you feel ‘niggles’, mention what activities might be causing it to you head/manager so action can be taken. It’s likely that if you find something uncomfortable, your colleagues will too. Maybe it’s moving the sand/water tray, the position of the whiteboard or sitting on children’s chairs?

Safer Storage
Keep heavier items (books etc.) between waist & shoulder height. Can areas be rearranged so pupils can access their own materials? Fit storage sheds with a fixed or portable ramp?

Training
Have you had manual handling training? Ask your manager for further information as this is a legal requirement. Teachers should also know how to looks after their most important teaching tool, their voice!

Think Children
Changing lifestyles are affecting growing spines. Up to 50% of 14 year olds have suffered back pain. Children learn through observation so remember your own safer lifting & healthy postures! Arrange the classroom so all children can see the board without twisting around. Can they turn their chairs around & use a clipboard or regularly change position? A floor sitting wedge cushion can also improve posture for younger pupils.

Consider Your Teaching Environment
What factors might be detrimental to your vocal & back health? Do you have to shout in a playing field or compete against machinery in a workshop? Think about how you plan your lesson. Could all explanations be done inside or before machinery is used to minimise the need for volume & possible vocal strain?

Awareness of Vocal & Back Strain
Recognising when something is going wrong is important to prevent it from becoming something more serious. A good rule of thumb is: ‘If it hurts, stop doing it!’

Resources
Lorna, who developed the Jolly Back™ Chair, & TemperVox have created a DVD training package on Manual Handling & Back & Vocal Health, due to be launches in October 2011.
See www.jollyback.com or www.tempervox.co.uk

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