Between standing on hard surfaces for hours every day instructing students, sitting for long periods to prepare lessons and grade papers, and interacting with a range of students, parents, and fellow faculty members on a range of different issues, teaching is one of the most rewarding as well as one of the most demanding professions, both physically and mentally. And the stressors of the job have got even greater for New Jersey’s 110,000-plus teachers as a result of the COVID-pandemic.
“In the past, we were used to treating a variety of occupational stressors among teachers, including headaches, musculoskeletal neck and radiated pain from excessive time spent reading and grading papers, and lower back pain from standing on hard tile or concrete for hours at a time,” explained Dr. Barry Rizzo, chiropractic physician and founder/owner of Toms River Chiropractic, Physical Therapy and Medical, a nearly 20-year-old, full-service practice that treats a range of musculoskeletal and sports injuries and helps patients achieve safe and lasting relief from their pain.
With the onset of the pandemic this March, however, “we’ve definitely been seeing a shift in the demands on educators,” he said. Among those, “teachers who instruct in-person are now required to walk significantly farther distances to cover their newly redesigned, socially-distanced educational spaces, while the necessary use of masks leads teachers to have to tip their heads 10 degrees more in flexion to see over the masks,” he said. “For those working within a virtual model, time spent hunched over a laptop, cell phone, or another electronic device puts excessive strain on the cervical spine, while their new ‘home office’ setting may not be ergonomically optimized to support proper posture.”
Along with the physical toll that teaching can take on their body, Dr. Rizzo said that the emotional stressors on teachers at this time — from meeting their students’ needs in newly improvised (and often constantly shifting) school settings during the greatest public health crisis in the past century to managing concerns for their own health and exposure and supporting their family’s needs at home — can be equally taxing. “According to a recent survey of 5,000 teachers by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, the five most-mentioned feelings among teachers were ‘anxious,’ ‘fearful,’ ‘worried,’ ‘overwhelmed,’ and ‘sad,’ ” Dr. Rizzo said. “Nearly half of all teachers report experiencing a high level of daily stress similar to that of nurses, which has subsequently reduced many teachers’ satisfaction with and enthusiasm for their job.”
The bottom line? “The progression of stress syndromes among teachers is now ‘on steroids’ due to COVID and translates into musculoskeletal disorders as well as conditions such as irritability, allergies, sleep disorders, abnormal weight gain or loss, and gastrointestinal issues — all of which we work hard to identify and help mitigate at Toms River Chiropractic, Physical Therapy and Medical,” Dr. Rizzo said.
A Comprehensive Approach
Staffed by three full-time and two part-time doctors, two physical therapists, massage therapists, an acupuncturist, numerous support staffers, and a network of skilled medical doctors representing a range of specialties, Toms River Chiropractic, Physical Therapy and Medical provides patients with a continuum of care to help address the root cause of problems and make appropriate corrections.
“We begin the process by taking a comprehensive history of the patient and performing a hands-on orthopedic and neurologic exam and possibly one or more x-rays to better understand the source of their pain and rule out certain medical conditions,” Dr. Rizzo explained. “The key to enhancing functionality is by improving structure, so we focus on improving mobility, helping joints to move within their proper range of motion so that they’re not exerting excessive tension on muscles, and developing a customized course of care for each patient that involves chiropractic, physical therapy, or medical interventions as required.”
The team also helps patients embrace the nutritional changes that can enhance their energy level, performance, functionality, and mood, such as increased consumption of leafy greens and vegetables and avoidance of trans fats and foods high in sugar, salt, and carbohydrates. “Because we’re fighting against cortisol, the ‘stress hormone’ which can spark weight gain and negative emotions, we also recommend that our patients build more exercise into their schedule,” Dr. Rizzo added. “Even 20 minutes of walking or other cardiovascular exercise three times a week can offset the negative effects of cortisol generated by operational stress and trigger the release of serotonin, a natural chemical in the body which is associated with feelings of happiness.”
Among his key messages, “we want teachers to know that they’re not alone in their struggles during this challenging time and that there’s hope,” Dr. Rizzo said. “We offer them a structured approach to greater wellness and find that they respond very positively and experience sustainable improvements because we help them become independently accountable for their own health.”
“Overall, teachers are hardworking, have an incredibly profound impact on our young people, and are the unsung heroes of our society,” Dr. Rizzo said. “At Toms River Chiropractic, Physical Therapy and Medical, we’re highly attentive to teachers’ needs and dedicated to keeping them in the best shape possible so that they can continue to provide their invaluable services to our community.”
Toms River Chiropractic, Physical Therapy and Medical is located at 438 Commons Way in Toms River. For more information or to make an appointment, call (732) 797-1771 or visit tomsriverchiropractic.com.
Dr. Barry Rizzo received his degree from New York Chiropractic College in 1998 and has been in practice for 22 years with offices in Toms River and Linwood, NJ.