“Sit Up Straight!” “Stop Slouching!” “Are you listening to me?” “You’re a kid – how can you possibly be tired?”
Does this sound familiar? Are these becoming the catch phrases that you herald at your children regularly? As a chiropractor, and a mum, I hear many parents uttering these lines (often in despair) at their children. And, sadly, they appear to make little to no difference to the outcome of their children’s posture because, even though the super powers of a mum are formidable, the ability of nagging to make a structural change in the overall posture of a child has been shown to make little or no clinical difference at all, apart from annoying the nagger of course! So should we stop wasting our breath and let them slouch their way through childhood and adolescence. Absolutely not! Posture, and its effect on the health of our children, is extremely important and requires more than just paying it lip service.
So what is posture? As you can imagine posture consists of more than slouching. When assessing some ones posture you need to consider the carriage of the body as a whole, the position of the limbs, head and shoulders in a standing, sitting and lying position as well as during movement. An altered head carriage, an increased forward roll or drop on one side of the shoulders, an over straightening of the legs or an alteration in the waist curves implies that there are postural problems which may be an indication of an important underlying structural issue or due to something as simple as an imbalance in muscle length and strength (which is the more common presentation in children).
So why does there appear to be a demise in the posture of our children? When I was young (no not that long ago), after school, would run around the neighborhood with our friends, playing, riding bikes, climbing trees until our mothers gathered on our front doorsteps and sounded the collective call for us all to return home to dinner, homework and bed. Life has changed immensely since then. I would no sooner let my 7 year old daughter head off out of my sight to roam free than book a trip to swim with sharks who haven’t eaten for a year and their favourite feast is short, middle aged women who are stylish and witty (one should always take every opportunity to acknowledge one’s attributes).
Today, sadly, children on the whole, are less physically active than we were at their age, even though, as parents, we try and fill our busy lives with organised sporting activities for them to compensate for the aforementioned lost freedom. This decrease in physical activity leads to poor core strength, shortened, weak muscles and poor posture. Why does this matter? Well research has shown that poor posture can contribute to:
- poor muscle function that leads to increased potential for injury;
- poor joint function which decreases flexibility and strength;
- increased fatigue as it requires more energy to maintain poor posture;
- an increased incidence of cervicogenic headaches, decreased respiratory function; and
- decreased concentration.
All of which can present to us mere parents as children who are tired, irritable, poor concentrators, and complain of headaches, back or neck pain. Sound familiar?
In a recent study, published in November 2014, they showed that over a 2 year period up to 38% of school aged children between the age of 6-12 were likely to report an episode of back pain per year, and up to 23% reporting 2 episodes in a year. In another study, the effects of backpacks on children demonstrated that the spine lost its plasticity and was slow to restore to its optimal static position with repetitive loading. And even more significant to our children’s health was a study that looked at the effect of lung function on children with altered posture and they noted that there was a decrease in lung capacity with children with poor posture.
We have all heard that “sitting is the new smoking” but mostly this is discussed in the news as it relates to the sedentary work force and adults. But have you thought about how often your child sits during their day, especially once they start school? Have you ever cringed as you have attempted to pick up your child’s backpack and realized that a call to your chiropractor is now in order? Have you ever wondered what the long term impact is of all that marvelous new technology that gives us so much peace and quiet when out to dinner or on a long drive? Well if you haven’t, you should!
When you break down a child’s day you realize they spend up to 7 hours at school a day with an estimated 4-5 hours of those sitting (even more as they get older), they are engaged with technical devices such as iPhones, iPods, iPads, laptops or computers, they carry those heavy school bags, sports bags and possibly musical instruments to and from school and then for relaxation they watch TV. All of these have positives benefits (yes even a little down time watching the box can be a good thing) but when you think about the amount of these activities they do in a day the accumulative effect can be very negative for a formative spine.
So now that I have your attention I can hear you asking, “What can I do about it? I tell them to sit up straight but it makes no difference!” You are absolutely right. It takes more than repetitive nagging to make changes. This is where I am all a quiver with anticipation. We have a solution and as you can guess we are really really really excited!
At The Chiropractic Works Dulwich we are launching a Posture Program designed specifically for kids. Each child that participates will be assessed on their static posture, their flexibility, their strength as well as other criteria and then be given a specifically tailored program which will include stretches and strengthening exercises that have been modified just for kids plus support sheets for parents to help them make the home environment more posture friendly. This program is designed to be fun, easy and engage kids about their own health and at the same time make a measurable improvement in their posture. Did I mention I was excited! I hope you are too!
So if you have concerns about your child’s posture or you would like to make sure that their general flexibility and strength is within the normal range for their age or you perhaps you would like to gather fact sheets to help make your home a healthier environment for them then please take the time to contact our clinic and let us happily (and excitedly) put them through our Posture Program because, as we now know, posture is the backbone of their good health.
We hope to see you (and them) in our clinic soon.
Happiness in Health