Canadian educators are one of Canada’s greatest assets. If you are a teacher, you are in a group of highly skilled, highly compassionate, and often undervalued individuals who we trust with the most vulnerable sector of our population. Many outside of the education system have no true idea what teachers do in a day, what you have to deal with, and how physically and emotionally exhausted you can become.
Teaching is a more physical job than many people realize, and many teachers experience musculoskeletal pain as a direct result of their jobs. As you may be well aware, educators are faced with a number of frequent and recurring health challenges that are widespread in your profession. These include:
• Injuries sustained by an increase of violence in the classroom, ranging from soft tissue injuries and concussions, to emotional trauma from frequent verbal abuse.
• Repetitive strain injuries from the constant leaning over, squatting beside students, reaching up, hunching over, standing for long periods, and participating in physically demanding activities.
• Various mental health conditions that can be due, in part, to a lack of support from parents, other staff, their communities, or the government. Teachers are also faced with having children in their care who have challenging or disturbing home situations, but have a limited ability to help them.
Registered Massage Therapists (RMTs) have the unique benefit of having enough time to listen, assess, and treat many of these conditions. Many mental health conditions have associated physical symptoms that can be addressed by massage therapists. Because a typical massage therapy treatment is between 45 and 90 minutes, we have time to listen to the stories, can connect symptoms with scenarios, and can create a comprehensive and individualized plan to treat accordingly. RMTs are trained to educate their patients on their conditions and can recommend and refer out to the best health care professionals as appropriate.
Teachers who are already using massage therapy as part of their self-care are commonly coming in for neck, shoulder, upper and lower back tension and/or pain, as a direct result of the physical stresses of their jobs. A typical massage therapy treatment will include assessing areas of concern, establishing a goal or desired outcome for that particular session, creating a treatment plan for continuing success, and hands-on therapy to quiet the body’s aches and pains. Massage therapy is traditionally a series of manual compressions, strokes, percussive tapotements, and stretches to the soft tissues to relax the muscles and ease the nervous system.
Following a manual treatment, an RMT will advise on some exercises and/or stretches to further the likelihood of positive outcomes. All teachers would benefit greatly from at least one, if not several, mini sessions of stretching and exercise throughout the school day.
Here are some easy exercises that would be beneficial and that can be done seated at a desk. You may even include your students in parts of your classroom exercise program to get them moving more.
SEATED LEG RAISES: Sitting with a straight back in a chair, feet and knees hip-width apart on the floor, raise one leg at a time parallel to the floor so the heel is reaching out towards the opposite wall and the toes are slightly pointing back towards the knees. Hold this position for a count of five and slowly bring the foot back to the floor to release. Do this 10-15 times. Make it more challenging, if safe and comfortable to do so, by holding for a count of 10, and adding weight by looping ankle through a purse or bag. Discontinue if painful at any time. This is both a stretch and a strengthening exercise.
FOOTBALL FAST FEET: Sitting in a chair with feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart, start rapidly tapping feet on the ground as if running on the spot. Do this for 30 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, then do it again for 30 seconds. Repeat as often as desired to regularly increase heart rate.
CHAIR DIPS: Sit with a straight back at the edge of a sturdy, non-rolling chair. Grip the edge of the chair on either side of your hips with the palm of the hand to the back, fingertips facing forward. Straighten your legs out in front with heels anchored to the floor, toes pointing to the ceiling. Lift your body off the chair and lower it towards the floor, like a reverse push up. Push back up and repeat 10 to 15 times. Keep your shoulders from creeping up around the ears to avoid neck strain.
FREE WEIGHTS: Using some kind of weight (e.g., two full water bottles, paperweights, full three hole punches, or two cans bound for the food bank), go through a mini weight routine of arm curls, overhead presses, and other simple gym style workouts.
All of these exercises should be approved and recommended by an appropriate health care professional to make sure no injuries are sustained.
Teachers, like health care professionals, are susceptible to burnout and compassion fatigue. They need to recognize when they need self-care, and take the steps to get it. Massage therapy is an excellent entry point for creating a self-care plan that is based on a person’s individual needs.
Finding an RMT is best done through word of mouth, asking friends or family if they have any recommendations. You can also search through an Association in your province. For example, in Ontario you can find a massage therapist in your area by visiting www.rmtao.com (website for the Registered Massage Therapists’ Association of Ontario). It is important that you ensure your massage therapist is either registered with your provincial regulatory college (e.g. The College of Massage Therapists’ of Ontario in Ontario), or if you live in a province without a regulatory college, ensure that they are part of a reputable massage therapy association.
It is widely known that in order to provide good care and guidance to others, one needs to start with good self-care, but sometimes putting that into practice can be a challenge. This can be particularly challenging for people who are in caring professions themselves. Massage therapy is a great start.
In this new and challenging time of COVID, massage is still an excellent option, and teachers can feel safe knowing that we have some of the most stringent health and safety measures in place. In Ontario, this includes a detailed screening for all patients and therapists, mandatory mask-wearing by the therapist and patient, several points for hand sanitization, logging and tracking a very complex protocol of cleaning before and after each patient, and severe consequences for non-compliance. It is more important now than ever, to make stress management a priority, as stress is a large contributor to immune dysfunction. Staying mentally healthy is as important as any other immune-boosting strategy. Massage is still an excellent option, and in these uncertain times, a safe one.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Micaela Quibell, RMT, practises in the tiny village of Warkworth, Ontario. She graduated in 2015 from the D’Arcy Lane Institute in London, ON. She splits her work hours between three clinics: Sharpe Physiotherapy in Trent River, Ontario; her own clinic in Warkworth; and The Bridge Hospice in Warkworth, where she has set up a massage program on a volunteer basis for the residents, caregivers, staff, and volunteers of the hospice. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appears in the Fall 2020 issue of Canadian Teacher Magazine