Start your kids out right by making sure they have healthy posture.
Kids today have a different set of challenges when compared with kids who grew up ten or more years ago. Technology is a part of their every-day life. These youngsters are comfortable using mobile devices such as phones and tablets. They also spend time using laptops, wide screen televisions, and gaming systems. They are known to spend less time outside compared to previous generations. So they may be much more adept at using their thumb and fingers to swipe across a mobile device (or touch pad) than they are at tossing a Frisbee or tying their shoes.
These kids may have a more relaxed, even “sloppy” posture with rounded shoulders. It isn’t uncommon for parents and grandparents to continually remind these kids about their posture. Some of them enjoy lying on the floor while doing homework or using a mobile app. Others sprawl across the couch while playing console games. Even with good parenting, and frequent encouragement to participate in outside activities, this generation of children and teens often prefer to relax while interacting with technology. This can put them at risk for skeletal issues and health problems.
Why good posture is important.
Good posture is important for both adults and kids. The body’s skeleton should be stable yet flexible. Children and teens have more cartilage in their skeleton. This cartilage enables them to bend, crawl, jump, twist, roll, reach, and move in all sorts of ways. When an adolescent transitions into adulthood, much of this flexible cartilage is replaced by hard, dense, ossified bone. Throughout life, the skeleton enables the body to remain upright against gravity when seated or standing. The bones provide places for muscles to insert and attach.
When the bones of the skeleton are lined up properly, the muscles can work more efficiently. They also tend to tire less frequently. The skeleton should also be symmetrical so that the bones on the left side of the body are level with the bones on the right side. Muscles can lose strength when the body has poor posture and biomechanics.
Examining your child’s posture:
You can assess your child’s posture by looking at them from the front, from the back, and from each side. First, we’ll mention what we should expect to see in a child with healthy, normal posture. After this, we look for any changes or irregularities.
From the front – Take a look at their ears. The ears should be level with one another. One shouldn’t be higher than the other. Next observe the distance between their right ear and their right shoulder. Then check the distance between their left ear and their left shoulder. Is the neck straight or does it tilt more toward one shoulder. Is their nose in the center when they look directly at you, or is the face slightly rotated toward one side? We then consider their shoulders. Are both shoulders level or is one shoulder lower than the other? Does one collar bone stick out further than the other? When they relax their hands at their sides, check to see if one hand is lower than the other. This indicates asymmetry. Have the child place their hands on their hips. Check to see if both hips are level. When one hip is higher than the other, it shows that the pelvis isn’t lining up properly. Are both kneecaps level? When you look at their feet, is one foot turned outward or inward more than the other? Look at both their toes and their heels to check for anything that looks asymmetrical or “wrong.”
From the side – When viewed from the side, there are certain key points that should line up from top to bottom. If you were to draw a line from the center of their ear to the floor, these are the points that should fall on this line: center of the shoulder, center of the hip, center of the knee, and center of the ankle. With kids continuously leaning forward to use mobile devices, we pay special attention to the head, neck and shoulders. Is their head angled forward? If so, this is called an “anterior head carriage.” It means the skull is no longer resting comfortably on the top of the spine. (It also means that, in addition to the normal group of postural muscles keeping it in place, the child’s body is relying on additional muscles to support the weight of the head.) Next, look at the shoulders. Is one or both shoulders stretched forward of the body’s midline? The same applies to the hips. Check to see if one hip is moved forward when compared with the other. Look at the knees and ankles. Does everything seem to line up? Have your kid turn and face the opposite direction so you can check their posture from the other side.
Other indications that your child may have incorrect posture:
How do they sleep? Sometimes the body will try to self-correct at night by having the child sleep in unusual positions. For example, if they continuously sleep on their tummy, their body may be trying to twist itself back into a proper alignment. Bed-wetting after the age of 4 can also sometimes indicate a skeletal misalignment of the low back or pelvis. (This can run in families. Some people are more prone to skeletal asymmetry of the low back.)
How do their clothes fit? Is the neckline of their T-shirt always shifting to one side? Does one side of their shirt always get un-tucked? When they carry a purse or bag on their shoulder, does the strap keep slipping off? (A bra strap continuously showing or sliding can also indicate this in an older child.)
Are they always slouching? Some parents take this as a sign of “laziness” but it could be that your kid is actually unable to maintain correct posture. Or if they can manage proper posture, it requires constant effort on their part.
A word about scoliosis.
Scoliosis is a lateral curving or twisting of the spine. A condition known as Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis affects as many as 25% of teens and tweens. Be sure to watch your child carefully starting around age 10 for any changes in their spine. Take your child to the chiropractor at least every 6 months and ask them to check for this condition. In many cases, routine chiropractic treatments can slow or completely halt the progression of this type of scoliosis. Usually by around age 18, the spine will fully harden. The cartilage of youth is replaced by dense, compact bone. At this point, there is no longer a risk of the scoliosis progressing and the curve will not worsen.
Understand the risks of incorrect posture.
It’s important that your child start out life with healthy posture. This provides numerous benefits such as better balance, a stronger core, less muscle fatigue, and increased performance during sports activities. However, kids who continually have poor posture are more prone to suffer from different musculoskeletal complaints.
Picture this: A child’s head, which weighs around 10 pounds (approximately the weight of a bowling ball) should normally rest on top of the spine. When the head is in the correct place, only a few groups of postural muscles are needed to keep the child’s skull balanced. Very little effort is expended by their body to keep the head in place and they feel relaxed and comfortable. However, when the head has shifted too far forward due to improper posture, their body feels the discomfort of this change. Their posture muscles are no longer sufficient to keep their head in place. The child’s body is forced to recruit other muscles (that are designed for body movement, not for posture) to handle the weight of the head. These muscles must work all day long to support the weight of the head. Normally they would only work when the child’s body is involved in physical activity. But now these muscles don’t get a break, even when the child is reading or watching TV.
Children who have their head and shoulders angled too far forward eventually begin to experience tight muscles in their neck and upper back. This may eventually lead to chronic neck pain and tension headaches. Poor posture can also contribute to restless sleep because the child is unable to find a comfortable position in which to rest.
When they have tight muscles for days and weeks at a time, they begin to feel tired. This can affect their ability to concentrate. Sore muscles, a lack of sleep, and the inability to find a comfortable position is a recipe for irritability and anxiety. Parents and caregivers may notice a change in the child’s behavior before the child even recognizes that their muscles have become tight and sore.
What can be done to correct your kid’s posture?
You’ve already completed step one, which would be to start keeping an eye on your child / tween / teen and watching their posture. The next step is to encourage them to develop healthier habits. Show them by example, not just with words (because parents benefit from having correct posture as well). Check their chair and desk at home to make sure it fits them correctly. Make sure the mattress on their bed is comfortable yet offers support. Kids sometimes need to be reminded when they are slouching over their mobile device. They also benefit from getting some fresh outside air, away from electronics.
Find a chiropractor who regularly works with kids and schedule a consultation. The chiropractor can evaluate your child’s posture and make gentle corrections to their spine and skeleton. If your child has been struggling with poor posture for longer than a year, it may take several visits to the chiropractor before their posture returns to normal. Most kids enjoy visiting the chiropractor because they notice that they feel better after chiropractic treatments. Sometimes children feel more relaxed and immediately begin sleeping better once the biomechanics of their spine and skeleton start to improve. Even after the posture has been corrected, the child may need to be placed on a schedule so that their posture can be evaluated occasionally.
Continue to observe your child’s posture and safeguard them from musculoskeletal problems that could cause issues later in life. By starting their lives healthy and strong, you give them the best possible opportunity for a bright future.