Have you ever stopped to think about how important it is for you and your children to have good posture? Let’s see why posture is so important and how to help improve your child’s posture, starting today.

The posture-health connection

The spine is made of 33 individual bones, or vertebrae, stacked one on top of the other. The spinal column provides the main support for your body, which allows you to stand upright, move, bend, twist, dance and wiggle.

The spine is also protecting part of the nervous system, specifically the spinal cord from injury. Strong muscles and bones, flexible tendons and ligaments and sensitive nerves contribute to a healthy spine. If the spine is affected by strain, injury or disease, this can cause pain and dysfunction; and misalignments in the spine can alter communication between the brain and the body.

A trend we have noticed in our clinics over the years is that our patients are getting younger and younger. As a proactive healthcare provider, we asked ourselves: “What can we do differently to prevent these problems from starting in the first place?” The answer is simple. We need to develop a healthy spine with healthy posture habits and then continue to maintain that posture through growth and development.

Optimal health is more about pre-habilitation, not rehabilitation. It is estimated that 65 per cent of kids have postural distortions. Our habits – how we sit, stand, sleep and interact during our days – develop our posture. Kids who grow up with bad postural habits develop abnormal motor patterns that contribute to neuromusculoskeletal disorders and future dysfunction. Safe and gentle adjustments to the spine, coupled with age-appropriate therapeutic exercises or games, are used to stretch tight muscles and strengthen weak muscles to ultimately create and maintain a well-balanced, stable spine.

Postural collapse occurs when our head and neck are flexed forward, looking down at something

We’re able to promote neurodevelopment through some ‘purposeful play’ exercises, which has helped improve both physical and cognitive functions in our paediatric patients. Throughout the process of teaching both parents and children about their body, we’re able to empower patients with the knowledge and tools they need to make informed decisions about choosing a healthy lifestyle.

The ABCs of healthy posture: alignment, balance and core control

Your spine is the structural framework of your body. Subtle misalignments in the spine can change the overall biomechanics of the body, leading to added pressure on the joints and tension in the muscles.

Just as you would have a dentist check your teeth or an optometrist check your vision, it is recommended to have an annual posture analysis and spinal screening starting at the age of six by a chiropractor or spinal health specialist.

Balance is a complex system that helps integrate the information between our brain and our body. Proper communication between our visual field, vestibular system and proprioceptive input will produce excellent balance.

It is estimated that over 50 per cent of all age populations have a balance disorder. A digital balance assessment can be used to measure the various components of balance as part of a complete posture analysis.

As to core control, technology has allowed us to make advancements we never thought imaginable, but at what risk? Let us be serious when we talk about the harsh side effect technology is having on our posture. Postural collapse occurs when our head and neck are flexed forward, looking down at something. A simple act of texting, updating our social media accounts or watching that funny video on our smartphones has resulted in what is now diagnosed as Text/Tech Neck and is leading to an epidemic of digital disabilities. Let’s explore some tips on how to help prevent this from happening to you and your family.

1. Limit screen time to less than one hour per day.

2. Create a kid-friendly ergonomic study environment for your kids.

3. Limit backpack weight.

4. Posture breaks every 30-60 minutes.

5. Encourage daily physical activity.

6. Create a ‘parent-child’ or ‘family team’ to encourage each other to check your posture and sit up straight.

7. Sleep position: side or back, never the stomach.

8. Have your posture checked by a professional and, of course, always lead by example.

How heavy is your child’s backpack?

Heavy backpacks lead to increased loading on the joints of the spine and contribute to the formation of posture distortion patterns and even early degeneration.

Did you know that your child’s backpack should weigh no more than five to 10 per cent of their total body weight? For example, if a child weighs 20 kilos, the maximum backpack weight should be no more than two kilos.

How to check your child’s backpack at home

Step 1: Place child with backpack on the scale: __kg

Step 2: Place child without backpack on the scale: __kg

Step 3: Subtract: (Step 1)-(Step 2) = __kg

Step 4: Multiply: (Step 2) x .10 = __kg

Step 5: Is ‘Step 4’ greater than ‘Step 2’? If yes, your child’s backpack is too heavy.

What you can do

1: Lighten the load. Request duplicate copy of textbooks or insist the child has time after school to complete their homework before coming home.

2: Always carry backpack on both shoulders.

3: Place heaviest books/items closest to the spine.

4: Try a backpack that has rolling wheels (similar to a suitcase) but is able to be carried on both shoulders if going up/downstairs.

5: Request a free ‘Thriving Kids Posture Workshop’ for students and teachers at your school to learn how all the tips and tricks from backpack analysis, at home posture screenings, posture breaks and more.

Cristin Fitzpatrick and Matthew Stevens are spinal health specialists.

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