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The 3 biggest health risks affecting teachers

Posted by AllWays Health Partners blog team on July 13, 2022

With major changes in the past few years due to COVID-19 restrictions, many teachers have had to adapt to new ways of teaching. While many have returned to the classroom in some capacity, they may be feeling more stressed which can lead to higher health risks like sleep disorders and anxiety.

But what may be surprising are the other risks teachers face compared to the general population. It's not just more frequent colds picked up from students; these are far more serious issues that could have long-term effects.

Here are three to keep in mind:

1. Musculoskeletal Injury

From squatting to grab classroom supplies to standing for hours at a time, teaching can take its toll on the body. This can increase teachers' risk of ergonomic issues, including chronic back pain, hip stiffness, repetitive stress injuries, strains, and sprains. Over time, this can turn into a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), which can lead to more inflammation in the body and ongoing health concerns.

A study in the journal Industrial Health notes that MSD represents one of the most common and important occupational health problems in the teaching profession. The research finds that this condition can affect muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, nerves, bones, and blood vessels; it can also impact teaching performance and overall physical function.

This is a worldwide problem, research suggests, and teachers in both urban and rural districts can be affected. Prevalence tends to be higher among female teachers who have years of teaching experience, but the issue can affect anyone based on work conditions and stress levels.

2. Sleep disorders

Stress can affect the body in numerous ways, from frequent headaches and back pain to digestive problems and increased cardiovascular disease risk. One notable issue that can have a bigger ripple effect is sleep difficulties. That might take the form of trouble falling asleep, waking up often, insomnia, nightmares, and daytime sleepiness.

Research published in the American Journal of Health Education looked at public school teachers, administrators, and other personnel and found that almost 25 percent of teachers reported their daily activities were impaired by sleepiness. Nearly half slept an average of six hours or fewer per night, and overall, school employees showed more sleep problems than the general U.S. population.

Those researchers noted that these sleep problems not only affect teaching performance but also raise health risks, including mental health concerns. According to the Centers for Disease Control, inadequate sleep can be a source of mental distress and it can reduce feelings of confidence and resiliency.

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3. Severe and/or long Covid

Although Covid has caused illness across every industry and age group, teachers over age 50 may be particularly susceptible to severe illness from the virus, according to federal data.

A report from the research group Child Trends points out that teachers have significantly more social contact than the average adult, and are in close contact daily with dozens of students. When that fact is put together with data on more severe illnesses in those over age 50, it can mean higher risk for those in classrooms, according to commentary from Education Week.

Whether Covid infection is mild or severe, it could lead to "Long Covid," and a report in England found that education staff there now have the second-highest incidence of the disease after healthcare workers. Symptoms can include brain fog, chronic fatigue, rapid heartbeat, joint pain, and shortness of breath—which can all make teaching especially challenging.

Awareness about teaching-related health risks is important because knowing about these issues could prompt more checkups and health screenings that can catch problems earlier. Having the right health insurance is another crucial component of staying protected, whether a teacher has mild symptoms or is dealing with a chronic condition.

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Disclaimer: The content in this blog post represents the clinical opinions of the providers at AllWays Health Partners and is based on the most currently available clinical and governmental guidance.

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