Advise Me

Crafting Comfortable Study Spaces for Students to Ward Off Posture-Related Strain

We hear a lot about workplace ergonomics, with experts telling office workers how to adjust their chairs, position their monitors and use their keyboards so they don’t get back pain, eye strain or overuse injuries.

However, we don’t always pay as much attention to ergonomics for students. Kids are also at risk for strain and discomfort caused by the way their study spaces are designed. An uncomfortable chair or a desk that’s not set up well can cause back pain, neck strain or fatigue. These issues can make it hard for kids to concentrate. 

On the other hand, a well-designed study space helps keep kids comfortable and healthy, which means they are more able to focus and succeed.

We connected with Colin Goggins, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Banner Health, to learn more about the ergonomic challenges kids can have when they’re doing homework.

“Kids face long periods in seated positions, extended screen exposure and long-term electronic use when they are studying,” Dr Goggins said. Here are some things parents should know and what they can do to help.

How poor posture leads to strain

When kids are studying in poorly designed spaces, they may:

  • Slouch, which can put pressure on the back (causing pain), on the lungs (causing breathing problems) and on the gut (causing digestive issues). 
  • Have their heads too far forward, especially when using computers or reading. This positioning can strain the neck and upper back.
  • Cross their legs, which may seem comfortable, but can cause an imbalance in the pelvis and lead to back pain.
  • Use desks and chairs that are too high or too low, which can put them in awkward positions and make them uncomfortable.
  • Feel stressed or tired and get headaches.

“These health issues can affect student performance,” Dr. Goggins said. Good ergonomics address these issues before they become long-term problems.

In a well-designed study space, kids feel less physical strain, are more productive and are less likely to have health problems. They feel less stressed, so it's easier for them to focus on learning. 

“Increased comfort and reduced strain and fatigue will greatly improve academic performance through improved focus and concentration,” Dr. Goggins said.

How to design a safe and comfortable study space

There are a lot of factors to consider when you are setting up a homework spot for your child: 

  • Dedicated study space: You want a place where you can position adjustable furniture and control lighting and sound. “You also want to provide space for stretching, movement and relaxation away from their workspace,” Dr. Goggins said.
  • Desk: You want a desk that’s the right height so your student has a neutral wrist position when they are typing or writing. Their elbows should form a 90° angle.
  • Chair: In a chair that’s the right size, your child’s feet will be flat on the floor and their knees will form a 90° angle. It's a good idea to get a chair with lumbar support for the lower back. A chair with padding in the seat and backrest can also help your child stay comfortable for longer.
  • Screen: Designing the workspace properly can help reduce strain on the back, neck, shoulders and eyes. You want the monitor at eye level, so your student doesn't need to tilt their head up or down to see it correctly. The screen should be an arm’s length from the eyes to reduce eye strain. You can adjust the font size and screen brightness so the screen is easy to view at that distance. 
  • Study materials: Your child should keep the books and papers they need within arm's reach so they don't need to strain to get them.
  • Lighting: It's best to have a study space that's near natural light. Sunlight can help reduce eye strain and improve mood. You'll also want to have task lighting, so study materials are easy to see.

Be sure to check how well your child’s study space is working every few months. “As children grow and as their workload changes and increases, adjustability is essential,” Dr. Goggins said. The setup that worked well for your 3rd grader will need adjustments in 4th and 5th grade, for example.

Ergonomic tools that may help

You may want to add some accessories to your child's workspace. These tools may promote natural body positions and reduce strain. They can help students use proper posture, prevent discomfort and reduce the risk of long-term health issues like carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.

  • Ergonomic tools can help students be more productive and comfortable. They’re also customizable, so your student can adjust them the way they like best. Here are a few to consider:
  • Ergonomic keyboards have a curved or split layout, so they help keep wrists and hands in a more natural position.
  • An ergonomic mouse is curved to fit the hand’s natural shape, so they provide better support and reduce strain.
  • Laptop or monitor stands put the monitor at eye level.
  • Document holders can hold papers alongside the screen so your child doesn’t need to shift focus.
  • Chair cushions and supports can help your student feel more comfortable during long study sessions.

Of course, ergonomic solutions can be expensive. Here are some more affordable options that can help:

  • For lumbar support, roll a small towel and place it at the lower back.
  • Use a firm cushion or folded blanket to add padding to a chair.
  • Raise the height of a desk or monitor with sturdy boxes or books.
  • Look for affordable mouse pads that have built-in wrist support.
  • Provide task lighting with inexpensive clip-on lights.

Other tips for comfortable homework sessions

Good design isn't the only thing that can help your student when they are studying. They should also:

  • Check in on their posture and make sure their spine is aligned, their shoulders are relaxed and their wrists are in neutral positions. 
  • Take regular breaks to stretch and prevent stiffness. “At least once every 30 minutes or so, kids should stand up, stretch, walk around and loosen up their neck, shoulders and wrists,” Dr. Goggins said. They may want to set an alarm so they remember to move around.
  • Follow the 20/20/20 rule to reduce eye strain. Every 20 minutes, look at something that's at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. 
  • Blink frequently to reduce dry eyes.
  • Take breaks and do some deep breathing to relax the body and mind. Short yoga or stretching sessions can also be helpful.

The bottom line

We don’t always give a lot of thought to the way kids’ study spaces are designed, but a comfortable setup can help them stay focused, productive, avoid health problems and help set them up for success in school. 

If you would like more tips on how to create a homework spot that’s safe and comfortable for your child, reach out to an expert at Banner Health

Other useful articles

Children's Health Orthopedics