I don’t throw the words “public health epidemic” around lightly, but I do feel that we have gotten to that point with this health issue. I see it every day in my practice as well as in my community…and it has gotten dramatically worse in the 20 years I’ve been practicing chiropractic.
That public health epidemic is poor posture in children.
When I started practicing, chiropractors were mainly talking about children’s backpacks being too heavy and the impact of the added weight on kids’ posture. Although that is still an issue, now the main culprits of poor posture in children are the use of electronic devices and poorly developed postural muscle tone, due to the sedentary lifestyles of today’s kids.
Why posture is important – in children and adults
Before we get into the causes and ways to improve poor posture, I want to spend a moment on why good posture is critical for children – and really anyone.
When we have good posture, it keeps us in proper alignment, preventing abnormal wear and tear on our bodies. It also reduces the likelihood of injury. With good posture, our muscles work most efficiently and correctly, reducing strains and overuse.
There are even more profound effects of poor posture – ones that most people are completely unaware of.
- Studies have shown that slouching reduces lung capacity. People with an exaggerated rounding of the back, or kyphosis, can reduce their lung capacity up to 30 percent!
- Head-forward posture elongates the spinal cord causing a reduction in nerve conductivity.
- Your muscles need to work harder when your head is forward as well. Every inch your head leans forward creates 10 additional pounds of weight for the muscles to support in keeping your head upright. Think of the difficulty of holding a bowling ball far away from your body in front of you versus holding it close to your chest.
- Finally, there are some psycho-social aspects to poor posture. Studies even show that having bad posture can impact your mood (and improving your posture can make it better).
Causes of poor posture in children
The obvious one is overweight backpacks. At the same time, children today are slouching to look over electronic devices for long periods of time and leading sedentary lifestyles that contribute to poor muscle tone. Finally, stooping to bend when trying to look “less tall” and female development of breasts during puberty also contribute to poor posture habits.
Ways to improve posture
For starters, make sure your child’s backpack is no more than 10 percent of their body weight. Kids have been dealing with heavy backpacks for years, and there are some basic things they can do to lessen the load.
If your child has a computer or laptop station, make sure it is set up to be ergonomically correct. Investing in a quality chair at their computer desk will encourage better sitting posture.
If they do spend a lot of time on iPads, smartphones or other electronic devices, find ways for them not to slouch. They can stack pillows on their lap and rest their elbows on them to bring the device higher up. You can encourage them to sit on a stability ball while they play video games or browse their devices so that they are at least activating their core muscles while they entertain themselves. Of course…. limiting their screen time will also help!
Most importantly, if your child has bad posture, know that it can be improved. I have seen many children go from poor posture to normal posture through chiropractic and postural exercise. We have great protocols in our office to make improving posture both fun and satisfying for children of all ages. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to see a child’s confidence improve right along with their posture!
The American Chiropractic Association has a lot to say about posture – check it out.