Words Matter – Switching to Physical Distancing from Social Distancing

With over 15 years of writing job descriptions, post-offer testing, FCE experiences and ergonomic evaluations, you learn that in the world of workers compensation, physical rehab, and the legal realms that swirl between that words matter. We try to get people to use the term “modified duty” instead of “light duty” because the latter has been accepted by some to mean performing job demands with minimal physical requirements (some look at it as 20 pounds occasional, many look at light duty as 10 pounds or less). We’ve also tried to move people from “Pass/Fail” to “Meets/Does Not Meet” as the former is more about the individual and the latter is more about the actual demands of the position.

Mark Milligan (@MarkMilliganDPT) is an innovative DPT down in Austin, Texas who has been trying to get people moving over the last couple of years through the #IMovedToday hashtag on Twitter and has been a huge advocate for mobile and virtual services through his anywhere.healthcare business and his physical therapy practice. Mark had a great idea that he shared on Twitter on March 20, 2020. He suggested getting rid of the term “social distancing” and replacing it with “physical distancing”. I think he is definitely on to something.

physical distancing

In thinking about it, physical distancing is a significantly better term. We’re talking about staying 6 feet away from people when out in public or if the person is symptomatic at least 10 feet away. Or in California and New York (and probably New Jersey in the near future), staying in when possible and shutting down non-essential businesses to limit exposure. Physical distancing just means we are separated by a physical separation of distance. Humans by nature are social. In times like this, we shouldn’t be distancing ourselves socially from each other. We need to be reaching out by phone, text, e-mail, Facetime, or Skype to check on relatives, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Sometimes it may be just to say hello and check in but sometimes to let them vent or to vent to them. This is uncharted territory but communication and connection are two of the things that will help everyone get through this together.

 

“Virtual Classroom” Ergonomics

If your kids are like mine, they do their homework sitting on the couch, the bedroom floor, or maybe at the kitchen table – once in a blue moon. If they sit at a desk in their room, it typically isn’t for a long time. That’s a good thing because most of these setups aren’t great ergonomically for long periods of doing work.

It is a completely different ball game now that the schools are switching over to virtual classrooms due to the coronavirus. Students will be going online for extended periods of time to use Google classroom and other web portals to do assignments, watch instructional videos and virtual lectures/tours assigned by their teachers, etc.  This is a different situation than getting comfy and consuming streamed media for entertainment or doing a short bout of a homework.

There are several things that we can do to make sure that we improve their learning environment from an ergonomics standpoint so that we aren’t adding physical stress (musculoskeletal) to the emotional stress of this situation.  These fixes may not be ergonomically perfect, but we need to work with what we have available to us.

  • Don’t have a laptop stand? Find some books to stack underneath your ipad or laptop to get it to a better height.

savannah ipad before and after

(There are a couple of changes between photos.  In the after photo (right), the chair seat has been elevated and the feet are supported on a shoebox.  The ipad is lifted on books to help improve the viewing angle.  Note that the neck, shoulders, and arms are more relaxed in the improved posture.)

savannah laptop small before and after

 

In the after photo (above right), the laptop has been elevated on a stand to improve the vision angle.  A wireless keyboard and mouse with the laptop stand for inputting information.

  • Use a USB or wireless keyboard and mouse.
    • Don’t use the keyboard height adjusters – you want the keyboard to be somewhat flat to maintain a neutral posture at the wrist.
    • Keep the mouse close to the keyboard.  Don’t put it in a place that you need to reach away from your body for it.
  • Learn the keyboard shortcuts for your apps – this reduces the physical demand on your wrist and fingers when using the mouse.
  • If they have an adjustable chair, set it to the right height for the surface that the keyboard is sitting on.
    • If their feet don’t touch the ground, find a box or some books that they can use as a foot rest.
  • If their back isn’t touching the back rest of the chair, use a pillow to help provide some support.

Additional tips

  • Use a timer to remind your kids to look away from the screen for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. Have them refocus on something on the other side of the room to give their eyes a break.
  • At least once an hour, have them get up and move around.
  • Encourage them to drink water while they are doing their work to stay hydrated.

If your child has to use the couch, there are some small things that can be done to improve their posture.  Have them sit with their feet on the floor and a pillow behind their back for improved support (below right) instead of sitting with crossed legs.  Also, move the table close so they don’t have to reach (it could be a little closer in these photos.)

tyler couch before after

If you have any questions about how to set up your student’s “virtual classroom”, drop me an e-mail at quin@njergonomics.com, tweet me @njergonomics, or give us a call at (732) 796-7370.