Have you recently witnessed a child sitting hunched over with their head down staring at a smartphone, ipad, or tablet on a table or on their lap? I would venture to guess that you see this picture multiple times per day if you have, or are around, children. I would also go as far as to assume that most, if not all, children have been told multiple times to “sit up straight” by teachers, parents, and/or grandparents. However, even with the constant reminders, it seems that kids have been slumping more and more with the passing of each decade. One of the worst postures I have seen to date is a preteen who developed a point in his mid-back where there should be a smooth curve.
What is causing our youth to have worsening poor posture? Are they having an undeclared slouching contest with the previous generation, are they trying to be cool, or are they just a product of their environment with the vast surge in the use of technology? I get it. Even we adults need to be told to sit-up properly, especially when we are working at a computer, texting, or using a tablet. And you know what? Children hate being corrected as much as we do. With that said, it is hard enough to get adults to follow instructions, so how do we get children to change their habits, and understand the lifelong repercussions of sitting and standing in bad posture?
We first need to identify the culprits responsible for influencing slouched posture. The most common offenders include:
- Working/playing on tablets, laptops, and computers
- Playing video games
- Sitting for the majority of the school day
- Doing homework on a couch, bed, or improperly sized desk
- Watching TV
- Carrying heavy backpacks
- Not having enough physical play time
A typical American child spends the majority of their day doing most, if not all, of these activities. This means that they are spending countless hours in a position of looking down, hunching, slouching, jutting the chin, over-using the hands and forearms, and over-flexing the low back. This posture places a significant strain on the muscles, ligaments, and vertebral discs. Can you imagine what happens to the body when spending only a couple of hours a day in this position? Now picture the consequences of children putting their bodies in poor postures the majority of the day, and then add in lack of physical play. Children need to play and exercise to develop the muscles and stability in order to hold the body upright and fight against the constant pull of gravity on the body.
Failure to stay active can be detrimental to a child’s future. The reason is that unlike many other bad habits, children usually do not “grow out of” poor posture. They are more likely to grow into it, and it follows them through adulthood. As a result, kids are setting themselves up for a future full of struggling and fighting against pain and agony. The pain can show up in different forms from headaches, neck, mid, and low back pain and stiffness to repetitive stress injuries such as golfer’s and tennis elbow and carpal tunnel. When these conditions are developed earlier in life, they may be even more challenging to treat because the dysfunctional patterns have become strongly ingrained during the growing and developing years, and the body morphs into something that helps accommodate the slouched/hunched position. The good news is that most all of these problems can be prevented when addressed earlier in life.
The solution is to keep the modifications simple. Here are a few suggestions:
- Provide a proper desk and chair for children to do their homework and read. The chair should be at a height that allows the child to have their feet flat on the floor, but also positions the child high enough so that the desk is at, or below, the level of the elbow crease.
- Encourage the child to take a break from their technology every thirty minutes.
- Urge children to go out and play. Children should get at least one hour of physical activity per day. Plus they need to have the fresh air.
- Limit recreational technology time. It had been suggested by the Academy of Pediatrics to limit time to no more than two hours. However, they have recently changed their view to a more flexible rule of just “limiting” the time for recreational technology. I would still say it is safe to limit time to two hours per day if possible.
- Try to make sitting up straight fun. I know…sounds kind of dull, but if you can make it a competition among parents and children or siblings with who can achieve doing Bruegger’s Breaks ten times per day the most each week, then it keeps a tedious task light and fun. The Bruegger’s Break is performed by sitting up straight, tucking chin to create a double chin, squeeze shoulder blades together and down towards lower back, bringing shoulders away from ears. Hold position for 20-30 seconds. This can be done anytime of the day, but it can especially be used for #2 above when taking a break from technology.
- Gentle reminders may also help, and follow the reminder with how important good posture is for preventing pain in the future. (This may seem like the reminder with go in one ear and out the other, but the message will be engrained in their brain with repetition).
My goal is to try to put myself out of business by teaching others the exercises and lifestyle changes needed to prevent many of the ailments that bring patients into our office. However, the trends are going in the opposite direction. Most children cannot see past this Friday night, so it is our job to help them grasp the concept that they have to live with these same bodies for the rest of their lives.
(This three part blog written by Crystal Surprenant, MS, DC)