Posture and The Growing Child. Posture is the ability of the body to control its position against the forces of the external world. Good posture is a good habit, which contributes significantly to wellbeing!
Development of postural spinal curves and associated reflexes begins in the womb, continuing as we begin to lift our head and crawl as a baby and to walk as a toddler. During the first four years of life there is rapid growth of the spine and nervous system. The preschool years are vitally important in laying down a sound postural foundation while the spine is growing at such a rapid rate. Training in good posture from an early age decreases the prevalence of low back pain in children.
A child who slouches is increasing the chances of injuring his or her spine. The postural behaviour learnt by children will stay with them throughout their adult lives, and poor posture as a child may well mean back pain as an adult. So if we allow our children to have poor posture, we could be setting them up for future health problems. In fact, the world may be on the threshold of a health epidemic caused by poor posture! Just a couple of generations ago people lived far more active and dynamic lives than they do today, when our lazy and sedentary children spend hours slouched in front of the television set or playing computer games, and we spend hours sitting in front of the computer working. Is there any real difference between us, static in our office chairs, and the elderly folk who sit all day in an old people’s home, staring into space? Yes, there is one – they probably led active lives. I think it’s time to get out of your seat!
How Can I Help My Child Develop and Maintain Good Posture?
Movement is healthy. Keeping your child active and not allowing him to stay in one position for a prolonged time will keep his body stimulated and healthy. One of the best things you can do to help children overcome poor posture is to sign them up for some sort of movement class: dance, gymnastics, ice skating, martial arts or swimming lessons – anything the child enjoys and wants to learn. These classes will help promote the child’s awareness of his or her body, teach motor skills and instil self-confidence.
Correct sitting posture. Proper seating is important for proper posture. The best kind of chair is firm and provides support up and down the entire spine, but allows a space for the bottom to fit through at the back. It is better to try to encourage and develop good postural habits rather than using props such as pillows behind the lower back. It’s all very well trying to support the lower back with a pillow, but this will lead to poor habits.
Good sitting posture is as follows. Sit on the chair. Bend forwards, then wriggle your bottom back as far as possible until your spine meets the back of the chair. Then sit up. You will find that your lower back is concave and the remainder of the curves of your spine are well supported and automatically relaxed. Most importantly, you will find it difficult to slouch. If you find this uncomfortable, it’s because you aren’t used to it. It is important to assume this posture no matter where you sit. Avoid sitting on stools, as they offer no back support, and the softer a chair is, the more important it is to sit in the correct position. Ideally the chair you sit on should have a space at the back for your bottom to fit through.
If there is no alternative to sitting unsupported, there is one all-important thing to remember and that is to keep the curve concave in the lower back. Try this yourself. Sit away from the back support of your chair. Now arch your lower back so it is concave. The other parts of your spine and shoulders will automatically fall into the correct posture and alignment. Then loosen this lumbar curve as you sit, and experience what happens. Your posture will collapse! Try to follow this advice for two months and you will find that your body will adopt this posture naturally.
The fact is that we shouldn’t sit at all in prolonged static postures. We aren’t designed for it. We are designed to be dynamic beings of movement, and when we stop moving we should stand or squat.
It’s really important to encourage children not to stay seated in a chair for hour after hour. Since long periods of sitting in one position put a lot of stress on the spine, a child should stand up and move about as often as possible, preferably changing positions every half-hour.
Stop slouching. You must tell your child to stop slouching when he’s slouching! Your reminders will probably be viewed as annoying, but your child will get in the habit of standing up straight, at least when you’re around. Set a good example. If parents and older siblings slouch, younger children are likely to slouch, too. Children mimic everything their parents do. Lolling on the couch in front of the TV is a bad thing. If that’s what Mum and Dad do, it will be hard to convince Junior to sit up straight.
Personal issues for girls. At puberty girls typically slouch to hide their development. They are often self-conscious about their height and their breasts. Talk to your daughter about the changes she’s experiencing. Reassure her, and help her feel good about herself!
Book stand. A child isn’t doing his spine any good if he’s hunched over a desk looking down at a book. When your child is doing homework, the book should be raised at an angle. It’s handy to have a book stand on the desk, but if there isn’t one he can just lean the book he’s reading against another pile of books.
Age-appropriate furniture. The best furniture for children is a size that fits their bodies. If you sit in a chair that is either too big or too small, you’re more likely to be squished into an uncomfortable position that could affect posture. Get child-size chairs and tables that kids can use comfortably.
Have their eyesight checked. Poor eyesight can also contribute to bad posture if your child is forced to bend over his books just to see the print. If he’s hunching over his desk to peer closely at the page, have his vision checked. Adjust the computer angle. If everyone in the family uses one computer, the screen may be set at a convenient height for adults rather than children. Show your child how to adjust the monitor so he can view it comfortably.
Bare feet. Children are more likely to have good posture if they go without shoes as often as possible. That way they get more sensory information from their feet and will have better walking and postural skills. Children should be allowed to go shoeless around the house and in other places where it’s safe to walk barefoot as a way of improving their posture.
Nutrition. Good postural development depends on good structural and functional development of the body, which in turn is highly dependent on adequate nutrition. So feed your child a well-balanced, organic diet. Avoid processed foods (with their toxic chemicals), soy (which has a negative effect on thyroid and growth), and simple sugars (which have a negative effect on blood sugar and energy levels). After growth is complete, poor nutrition is less likely to cause structural faults that directly affect posture.
An Osteopathic Perspective
Osteopathy is a ‘hands on’ alternative medical profession that focuses on the musculoskeletal system (nerves, muscles, joints) with special emphasis on good posture as a vital part of the development of every child’s health. A holistic postural analysis of your child with appropriate treatment and postural education will help achieve optimal posture as well as treat any aches and pains.
Bad posture in a child can result in increased tension in the muscles of the back and strain on the spine at certain levels (neck, middle back and lower back) that may eventually lead to discomfort and pain, as well fixed postures that can be retained into adulthood. A forward-poking head posture as well as neck pain can lead to headaches and the inability to concentrate.
Sometimes a child’s slouching is the result of a musculoskeletal growth problem such as scoliosis, an abnormal side-to-side curvature of the spine, rather than an actual postural problem. Keep an eye on your children through adolescence for signs of abnormality, especially if there is a family history of the problem. Look out for one shoulder being higher than the other, or one hip that appears higher than the other. Notice if clothing never fits your child right!
Mechanical and structural changes such as scoliosis and unequal leg length can cause poor posture. However, poor posture can cause a ‘functional scoliosis’ that an osteopath can treat.
Postural problems can be due to physical defects, such as abnormalities in the neuromusculoskeletal system, or to diseases or disabilities – visual, auditory, neuromuscular or skeletal. These should be assessed as soon as possible by an appropriate health professional such as an osteopath.
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