Voice the Union – Back & Voice Article by Lorna Taylor & Gemma Boaden

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. Visit our website for more information.

Practical Tip 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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About Leon Trayman

Company Director of TemperVox Ltd - Making Professional Voices Heard. Vocal Coaches for professional people, we work with anyone who uses their voice as part of their job. This includes Teachers, Lawyers, Actors as well as Business People and Politicians.
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