Tactical Athletes

Not Child’s Play

By Tracy Howard

As a supply kindergarten Early Childhood Educator (ECE) who fills in at Toronto schools, there’s not much Antonia can predict about each workday. But one given is that she’ll be putting lots of demands on her body.

“You’re setting things up and taking chairs down off tables, and multitasking between sweeping up mess and you’re also a caregiver in that you’re often picking up and squatting down to talk to little kids,” explains Antonia. “And you follow them everywhere, so when they’re in gym, you’re running around doing gym class.”

Antonia works alongside the kindergarten teacher and provides lesson plans and programs, monitors the learning progress of children, helps them get winter gear on and off, and plays alongside the kids.

Although Antonia used to be a ballerina and has always been active, the job’s physical demands have taken a toll. “I’ve run marathons and never had issues, but I’ve had some really bad lower back problems since I’ve been teaching.”

To help ECEs, like Antonia, better manage the job’s physicality, we sought the advice of Jennifer Johnson, a Certified Athletic Therapist and the owner of the SMART Clinic in Mississauga, Ontario, which provides mobile clinics to workplaces throughout the Greater Toronto Area.

Bending and squatting 101

“I’m in a squat position for probably two or three hours a day,” says Antonia. “Zipping up a jacket or talking to a child, you’re constantly squatting down and standing up, which is tough on your back if you pitch forward.”

Johnson says “industrial athletes” (workers whose jobs are physically challenging) need to learn proper bending techniques. To avoid injury, she advises facing the direction you’re moving in to avoid twisting the body.

 “If you ever watch a toddler or young child move, they squat perfectly, they bend perfectly. They don’t know about bad habits yet, so I would advise her to look at what her students are doing.”

Setting the core

 Antonia says she tries to hold her core tight when bending, which earns her high marks from Johnson. “Setting your core is something that can be at the base of every movement we do,” says Johnson. “The most important thing is getting your spine in neutral by doing a few pelvic tilts and adjusting the position until your spine feels comfortable, and then pulling your ribs down toward the belly button.”

She also advises Antonia to do core strengthening, which will help her maintain good posture during activities like sitting cross-legged with students on the floor.

Core work and strength training will also benefit Antonia in preparing for unpredictable movements the job often requires, such as the time when she arrived at a class and was warned about a little girl: “this one’s a runner!”

Fitting in exercise

When Antonia used to wear a fitness tracker at work, she found she regularly reached 10,000 steps before noon, but a busy schedule and family life don’t leave her much time for other exercise. And, she admits when she does work-out, she often overexerts herself.

Rather than this all-or-nothing approach, Johnson advises starting small. “Pick a routine that’s 10 minutes,” she says. “Maybe some core this day, some stretching that day.” She suggests starting with two days a week, and then when that becomes easy, go to three, and so on, so it becomes a habit.

An Athletic Therapist, like Johnson, can help design a work-specific program that can easily fit into your schedule.

Foot relief

Antonia also contends with aching feet from standing all day. While she has purchased orthotics, Johnson advises there are additional methods to help feet.

“My biggest advice would be to try not to stand stationary,” says Johnson. She suggests Antonia do foot circles, flex her feet and wiggle her toes while standing to keep the muscles active, which will help them from feeling fatigued.

By following these tips, preventing work-related pain while teaching should be as easy as ABC.

Contributing Athletic Therapist
Jennifer Johnson

BPhEd(H), DipSIM(H), CAT(C)

Jennifer graduated from Brock University with an Honours degree in Physical Education. She then went on to obtain her Diploma in Sports Injury Management from Sheridan College in 2003. Jennifer opened up the SMART clinic and began specializing with the Industrial Athlete and has set up Athletic Therapy clinics on-site at various industrial settings across the GTA. These clinics use Athletic Therapy’s critical thinking, assessment and rehabilitation skills to keep employees working and preparing them for the motions they do on a daily basis. Currently Jennifer manages the industrial athlete clinics, which provide services to over 5000 workers, and treats various clientele at her private clinic in Mississauga, Ontario.