School at home: How to keep attending virtual classes from being a real pain in the neck (2023)

When the pandemic closed schools and colleges everywhere, my 19-year old daughter was one of the estimated 77 million students in America suddenly thrust into a new world of online classes. As she finished up freshman year at home, she went from walking several miles around a university campus each day, to spending hours sitting on a hard wooden bench at a small, repurposed dining table we set up in her room.

The pain started a few weeks into it.

A daily runner and champion high school cross-country athlete, she complained her lower back hurt when she walked, laughed, or moved wrong in her sleep. A virtual doctor’s appointment, then both virtual and in-person physical therapy visits showed a herniated disc – most likely caused by her new school-from-home workstation.

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“It’s not a surprise at all,” Dr. Jared Vagy, physical therapist, author, and USC Clinical Assistant Professor told me over the phone. “Definitely low back pain and neck pain are two of the most common sustained posture injuries from non-ergonomic sitting,” he said.

According to a Facebook survey earlier this year from the American Chiropractic Association, 92% of chiropractors said patients are reporting more neck, back, or other musculoskeletal issues since the pandemic began. Kids are no exception. If anything, Vagy says students could be even more at risk, since they often do their school work from bed or the floor, slumped over screens for hours at a time.

“Spine hunched and shoulders rounded, that’s the classic middle-school and teenager posture while sitting,” Vagy explained. “This is where parents need to step in and use one of the many accessible solutions to protect kids' overall health,” he said.

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Dr. Vagy said the fix can be as simple as setting a timer to have kids stand up and move around every 30-minutes, or set up a telehealth visit with a physical therapist who can analyze a students’ work-from-home set-up and make real-time recommendations. “Usually it’s a single-session solution and the fixes might not cost anything,” he added.

The good news is, making simple ergonomic changes part of your back-to-school-at-home plan isn’t difficult and, as Vagy said, it doesn’t have to be expensive either. Here’s how we created a pain-free workstation for my daughter, and how you can do it for your kids, too:

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The screen

Let’s start with the screen because it affects all the other elements. Is it a laptop? Desktop? Tablet? The rule for all of them is similar, but the tools you use to achieve that rule varies.

“The top of the monitor should be at about the height of the eyes,” said Michelle Despres, a physical therapist and ergonomics expert who developed a back-to-school toolkit for health care network management company One Call.

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School at home: How to keep attending virtual classes from being a real pain in the neck (2)

I’ve used everything from a stack of books to shoe boxes to elevate my laptop in year’s past, but now I’ve graduated to the $33 Soundance aluminum laptop stand that I found on Amazon. Both my husband and daughter now use these too, though my daughter also really likes the Uncaged Ergonomics WorkEZ ($40) lap desk tray for whenever she’s not sitting at a desk. Other parents I spoke with for this story also recommend a flexible arm that adjusts as your child grows or moves, like one Fleximount's $70 version. There are plenty of these that hold monitors and tablets, too.

Experts also recommend buying an external keyboard and mouse – especially if kids are working on a laptop or tablet. You can get basic ones for about $20, to avoid wrist, hand, and neck injuries. “Laptops are probably the worst thing to work on for a sustained time period" without ergonomic fixes,Despres said. “They're meant to be mobile and easily moved from one place to the other, not sitting at for hours at a time.”

Despres says these first simple fixes will likely work wonders, especially for neck pain and headaches, but read on for more fixes for mid and lower back pain.

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Once you get the monitor at eye level, you’ll likely see your child’s entire posture change, which is a good thing. That typical kid/teenager slouchy posture – often called “the turtle” (hunched over, leaning on the forearms) – is dangerous.

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My daughter’s physical therapist recommends a YouTube video by Cornell University ergonomics professor Dr. Alan Hedge that better explains good posture when you’re working at a computer. Hedge is one of the foremost researchers into ergonomics in the world, and he shows that when you raise the screen up, you tend to stop leaning forward. He says that’s a better position to allow blood to flow in the legs, and alleviates pressure on the forearms.

But we aren’t done yet.

Don't spare the chair

You might have a table or desk around and you can probably improvise a lot of the fixes you’ll need for that. But the chair is important. “If your budget is limited so that you can buy only a desk or only a chair, buy the chair,” says Despres. “And buy one that that you can adjust.” Despres says parents should look for a chair where you can modify the height, seat back, seat, angle, and armrests.

Vagy goes a step further and says kneeling chairs or ergonomic desk/chair combinations like the Edge Desk ($400) can also work wonders. “A kneeling desk does take a little more effort,” Vagy explains. “You have to engage your abdominal muscles and your core. No matter what, you should still stand up every 30-minutes, change your position, maybe do some stretches, and move around” he adds. He also recommends setting up the desk for the right height for your children and adjusting it as they grow.

The desk

The trend in workplaces is toward desks that allow you to sit and stand. And this is a great idea for kids, too. “Sitting all day is not great. Anything static is not great,” says Despres. “So if you can get a sit/stand combination desk, that’s wonderful.”

There are plenty of options at Wayfair, Amazon, Ikea, and Targetin the under $300 range.

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There are also specific ergonomic desk and chair combinations made just for children, too, but one of the only I could find still in stock is right now is the Potby height adjustable desk and chair for kids ages 3-10 ($127).

A footrest can also be a good idea so that when your kid leans back into that perfect, comfortable typing posture they can maintain all day, they can put their feet up, too, and take the pressure off the lower back. Then, try to get them not to stay in any one position all day.

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One of the biggest things missing from a virtual classroom, though, is movement. So even if you’ve now reached perfect ergonomic everything, don’t forget Vagy’s ultimate advice to get kids moving every 30 minutes.

You can set a timer, make rules, turn it into a game, or create routines that encourage getting up and moving often. However you do it, make sure that taking a break is part of your ergonomic lesson plan. A sit/stand desk can help build movement right into schoolwork, but getting up and going outside or doing jumping jacks – works, too. Bonus parenting points if you do it with them.

Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech columnist and host of USA TODAY's digital video show TECHNOW. Email her Follow her on Twitter:@JenniferJolly.

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How do you get rid of neck pain from online classes? ›

Keep Your Devices at Eye Level:

Rather than straining your neck forward (up or down), adjust your posture, and reposition the device to eye level. Consciously think about pushing your shoulders back, and bend your elbows until the screen is eye level, to avoid tilting your neck.

How can I be comfortable in online classes? ›

One of the simplest ways to transform what feels like a too-large, impersonal virtual lecture into a more comfortable environment is to break the class up into smaller groups. Students tend to feel more comfortable talking to peers or a TA. It allows for a more personal touch than a traditional virtual lecture.

How can I survive it this online classes? ›

8 Tips to Survive (and Thrive) in Online School
  • Have a Designated Workspace. ...
  • Get Organized (and stay that way) ...
  • Eliminate Distractions. ...
  • Pay Attention. ...
  • Hold Yourself Accountable. ...
  • Take Breaks. ...
  • Treat Yourself. ...
  • Be Positive.
Sep 8, 2020

How do you relieve back pain from online classes? ›

Stand up and stretch every 20 to 45 minutes. Take short breaks and allow your muscles to relax. Resting in between studying and doing work on the computer help you attain better focus. Walk around every 30 minutes or an hour to help your whole body relax and ultimately avoid muscle stress and strain.

How can I stop neck pain? ›

  1. Use good posture. ...
  2. Take frequent breaks. ...
  3. Adjust your desk, chair and computer so that the monitor is at eye level. ...
  4. Avoid tucking the phone between your ear and shoulder when you talk. ...
  5. If you smoke, quit. ...
  6. Avoid carrying heavy bags with straps over your shoulder. ...
  7. Sleep in a good position.
Jul 31, 2020

How do I get over an online class anxiety? ›

  1. Ask yourself the important questions. Like anything in life, diving into e-learning takes dedication and commitment. ...
  2. Talk to your friends and family. ...
  3. It's impossible to fail. ...
  4. Create a personal schedule. ...
  5. Find your favorite platform. ...
  6. Take breaks regularly. ...
  7. Reward yourself. ...
  8. Contact the online staff.
Apr 4, 2017

Why does online school give me anxiety? ›

Virtual Learning Can Cause Fatigue

It's more challenging for students to learn new information, and even though they just sit in front of the computer, they feel physically tired. Virtual learning fatigue is real, and it may lead to anxiety and stress for both students and professors.

Why do students lose focus in online classes? ›

Additional Mental Distractions

Additionally, the pandemic has added an entirely new set of mental distractions. Students may be thinking too much about what they don't get to do, or they may be worried about themselves or loved ones, or feeling fear about the unknown future, instead of focusing on online school work.

How do you escape from online school? ›

Top 10 ways to get out of virtual class
  1. You can say that you needed to help your siblings get on their zoom call or do their work. ...
  2. Tell them you have work. ...
  3. Tell the teacher you slept in. ...
  4. Go to class, turn your camera off, and then walk away. ...
  5. Pretend to be sick.
Dec 4, 2020

What are the 5 tips to be successful in online learning? ›

5 Tips to Succeed in Online Learning
  • Develop a Schedule. Commit to making your online coursework part of your weekly routine. ...
  • Set Specific Goals. Create daily goals and set reminders for yourself to complete tasks within specific windows of time.
  • Get Connected. ...
  • Create a Designated Study Space. ...
  • Stay healthy.

How do I stop getting headaches after online classes? ›

Eliminating screen-induced headaches
  1. Print out homework. Use paper when possible to limit time in front of computer.
  2. Take frequent screen breaks. ...
  3. Skip the blue light filtering glasses. ...
  4. Structure your child's day. ...
  5. Reduce stress. ...
  6. Drink water!
Nov 17, 2020

Which posture is correct for taking online classes work? ›

Ideally one should sit 90 degrees at the joint of the chair. If kids' legs are not touching their legs to the floor, they should have a footrest under their feet. The distance between the place they are sitting and the screen should be around one foot and it's important to keep the screen at the eye level.”

Why does my neck hurt from studying? ›

Sitting and studying for long periods of time isn't the healthiest position for your body. Long sessions in a chair and poor posture wreaks havoc on your muscles and ligaments, leading to a stiff neck, tight shoulders and upper back pain.

How do I get a healthy neck? ›

If you want to keep your neck happy and healthy, these would be my top recommendations:
  1. MOVE MORE. ...
Apr 6, 2020

How do you sit in bed with neck pain? ›

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How do I get rid of neck pain in 5 minutes? ›

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How do you talk in front of a class without getting nervous? ›

These steps may help:
  1. Know your topic. ...
  2. Get organized. ...
  3. Practice, and then practice some more. ...
  4. Challenge specific worries. ...
  5. Visualize your success. ...
  6. Do some deep breathing. ...
  7. Focus on your material, not on your audience. ...
  8. Don't fear a moment of silence.

Why do I feel scared to talk in class? ›

Some possible reasons are general social anxiety, or anxiety in groups, or performance anxiety, different fears such as fear of rejection, or fear of being unheard, fear of forgetting your lines, or fear of being teased or laughed at, for example.

What is the Glossophobia? ›

Glossophobia, or a fear of public speaking, is a very common phobia and one that is believed to affect up to 75% of the population. Some individuals may feel a slight nervousness at the very thought of public speaking, while others experience full-on panic and fear.

Is online school good for depression? ›

For these students, virtual learning offers an escape from depression and anxiety caused by the fear of being bullied. For other students, virtual classes can also provide an escape from the constant weight of peer pressure.

Is online school better for mental health? ›

Although this has been a major adjustment for parents and children alike, a new study has shown there are some positive benefits to remote learning in the mental health of teens. Believe it or not, remote learning may actually decrease social anxiety and help increase trust between students and teachers.

How do I not go to school? ›

5 Best Excuses for Skipping School - YouTube

Why is online school so hard? ›

The physical distance between students and teachers due to the online learning environment has made it difficult for students to be able to connect with their teachers. When working online it is much harder to show your teachers exactly what you are struggling to learn.

What is better face to face or online class? ›

While both online and face-to-face learning can have components of both student-led and teacher-led curriculum, online study lends itself better to student-led advancement and learning. In online study, students can decide for themselves what they want to dig deeper on, and spend more time learning.

Why is online learning so boring? ›

Why are online courses so boring? In a lot of cases, it's because the learning experience is passive. It's the same reason why so many lectures are boring. If all you do is sit there and absorb the material without interacting with it on an active level, it's going to bore you to tears.

How can I enjoy online school? ›

Tips for Taking Online Classes
  1. Treat an online course like a “real” course. ...
  2. Hold yourself accountable. ...
  3. Practice time management. ...
  4. Create a regular study space and stay organized. ...
  5. Eliminate distractions. ...
  6. Figure Out How You Learn Best. ...
  7. Actively participate. ...
  8. Leverage your network.
Mar 26, 2020

What do you do when your bored in class without getting in trouble? ›

Things to do when bored in class:
  1. Make a chatterbox.
  2. Design my dream home.
  3. Write a Haiku.
  4. Design a tattoo.
  5. Write a song.
  6. Try to draw a perfect circle.
  7. Create a new signature for myself.

How can I skip an online class without getting caught? ›

Have an excuse ready, like you're looking for your keys or flash drive that you dropped. Don't hang out in busy areas where you're more likely to be seen. Hide in the restrooms if you need to avoid someone for a little while. Although skipping class can be a thrill, don't do it too often or you might get in trouble.

Is it OK to skip class? ›

Skipping class in college is fine on occasion, but if it turns into a regular habit, your GPA will likely suffer, which is a waste of your time and money. It's important to weigh the pros and cons of skipping class on any given day, and generally speaking, you should attend.

How do I skip a class without getting marked absent? ›

One way to avoid having the school tell your parents that you skipped is to turn in a note for an excused absence a few days before you skip. Write the note in good handwriting and sign it with your parent's name. Turning in an excuse note before you skip helps you avoid detection.

What do online students need? ›

The definitive online school supply list for online students
  • A reliable computer and internet access. ...
  • A comfortable chair. ...
  • A separate workspace. ...
  • Any necessary software. ...
  • Earphones or earbuds. ...
  • Printer and printer paper. ...
  • Traditional school supplies. ...
  • An online or paper calendar.

How do I make learning easier online? ›

Eight Tips for Successful Online Learning
  1. Set clear expectations. ...
  2. Check all technical requirements. ...
  3. Have a stable, reliable internet connection. ...
  4. Designate a study area. ...
  5. Get organized. ...
  6. Schedule regular study breaks. ...
  7. Reward yourself. ...
  8. Participate in online discussions.
Sep 16, 2020

What are the disadvantages of online classes? ›

Ten Disadvantages of Online Courses
  • Online courses require more time than on-campus classes. ...
  • Online courses make it easier to procrastinate. ...
  • Online courses require good time-management skills. ...
  • Online courses may create a sense of isolation. ...
  • Online courses allow you to be more independent.

How can I be top 1 in online classes? ›

10 Ways to Stay On Top of Your Online Classes
  1. Get the most up-to-date tips on how to excel in your online education: 10 Strategies for Successful Online Learning. ...
  2. Establish a Routine. ...
  3. Leave Yourself Reminders. ...
  4. Get Comfortable Saying 'No' ...
  5. Reduce Distractions. ...
  6. Keep Good Notes. ...
  7. Don't Let the Work Stack Up. ...
  8. Don't Beat Yourself Up.
Dec 21, 2017

What do online classes do when bored? ›

Here's a great list of options to get you started.
  • Build Digital Jigsaw Puzzles. ...
  • Play Chess! ...
  • Take a Virtual Museum Tour Through Google Arts and Culture. ...
  • Become a Super Sleuth With Carmen Sandiego. ...
  • Listen to a Story Read by a Celebrity. ...
  • Create Stories, Games, and Animations With Scratch. ...
  • Make a Movie!

Why does my head hurt after online classes? ›

Muscles around the eye, like any others, can get tired from continued use. Concentrating on a screen for long periods can cause headaches, eye pain, brow-ache, dryness, and even lead to excessive rubbing and issues with concentration. Long stretches of screen time also lead to the eyes getting dry and irritated.

Why does my head hurt when learning? ›

For instance, long-term use of a computer or reading for long periods can cause eyestrain. Moreover, in some people, a symptom of eyestrain is headaches. Stress over making the grade — and pulling consecutive all-nighters to do so — doesn't help either. Stress is a known trigger of tension headaches and migraines.

What helps with screen time headaches? ›

Treatment for screen headaches and migraine episodes include OTC pain relievers, prescription medication you take at the onset, and preventive medication. Taking frequent breaks, optimizing screen and background lighting, and maintaining distance from your screen can all help reduce screen headaches.

How do you get rid of neck pain from online classes? ›

Keep Your Devices at Eye Level:

Rather than straining your neck forward (up or down), adjust your posture, and reposition the device to eye level. Consciously think about pushing your shoulders back, and bend your elbows until the screen is eye level, to avoid tilting your neck.

What is the healthiest sitting position? ›

Best sitting position

keeping feet flat or rest them on either the floor or a footrest. avoiding crossing knees or ankles. maintaining a small gap between the back of the knees and the chair. positioning knees at the same height or slightly lower than the hips.

Is it OK to study lying down? ›

If you are lying down, chances are, you'll get sleepy and fall asleep. When you are lounging, your mind drifts out of focus. When you are sitting upright, in a well-lit room, your studying will be the most focused. Every hour of studying this way could be worth two hours of studying on the bed or sofa.

Which posture is correct for taking online classes work? ›

Of course, sitting straight is on the first place because it allows you to breathe in larger amounts of air and focus more on the information comprehension. If you have a chair with a back support you must be sure that your legs are comfortably reaching the floor and you don't have to figure out where to place them.

How do you prevent a technical neck in children? ›

To prevent tech neck imbalances, focus on strengthening the upper back, chest, and shoulders. In children, adequate exercise is key. If children are interested, participating in organized sports can be a good way to stay active. Encourage children to ride bikes, play outside, or even hula hoop.

How do you maintain good posture especially when attending online classes and doing physical activities? ›

Practice great posture.

Discourage slumping by making sure that desks, chairs, and monitors are at an appropriate height for your child. Exercise ball chairs are also a great way to encourage good posture – and focus for kiddos who work best with a little movement.


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