Children and the Importance of Sound Ergonomics

Parents should pay attention to how their kids are sitting at their desk, playing on their devices and carrying their backpacks because maintaining good ergonomics is critical to healthy spine growth, good posture and body development.

What is ergonomics and why should parents be aware of proper ergonomics for their children?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Yeah, it’s a really important topic that we are consistently discussing with our parents here in the office. Ergonomics is essentially just how you’re sitting or standing at your workstation. So, if you’re a corporate athlete and you’re an adult, it’s sitting at your desk and your cubicle. If you sit for a living and obviously, if you’re younger and you’re in college or school, it’s how you are essentially sitting and studying, learning at a desk.

Ergonomics is massively important, from when you’re a kid, all the way to when you’re an adult. Massive amounts of research from different facets of the healthcare industry, just essentially emphasizing how critically important ergonomics is for a healthy spine. Obviously, if you’ve got a healthy spine, you’re going to function well. If you don’t have a healthy spine, you’re going to be running into issues.

Kids, it’s really important to get them off to a good start, because kids are super adaptable. So, if they adapt to poor posture and then as they go through adolescence and start growing around a poor posture, that’s going to be a lot more difficult to fix, than someone who’s in good posture, building essentially, a good frame around good posture. And there’s loads of good research that’s coming out. We’re at the forefront of research of essentially how poor ergonomics can create poor posture in kids and how poor posture can create, obviously pain, but also, all those things that are on the spectrum in sensory disorders essentially, ADD, ADHD, things of that nature. It’s all coming back to kids that just aren’t sitting correctly while learning, or on the tablets or the phone. We’ll get into this in some more detail here, but it’s just pulling the necks out of alignment. That’s putting stress and tension on their upper cervical spine. And that’s just creating like this myriad of sensory issues.

How your kid is sitting and learning, or relaxing and playing, on their computer or tablet, is critically important and something that every parent should take a big interest in if they’re going to be raising healthy kids.

Can you give us some examples of sound ergonomics for babies and toddlers, when it comes to their toys, play tables, bouncy seats or other gear?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely, yes. So, as a baby, we want to be doing lots of tummy time, as soon as we can. The more, the better because when babies are laying on their tummy, then all the muscles in the back of their body, in the post area, it means the back of the body, they’re going to be engaged and switched on. Specifically, when they’re trying to raise their head up, they’re using those neck muscles and that helps for the cervical curve, or their neck curve. Obviously, the curve in your neck is really important. We call it the curve of life, right? It dictates the load that you’re putting into the joints and onto the nerves. If you have a baby, obviously a good pediatrician should be telling you this, make sure they’re spending plenty of time on their front, because that’s really going to set the foundation for them to build a healthy spine.

Then keep an eye out for babies that go from tummy time to walking and they skip the kind of crawl phase. That crawl phase is critically important to develop the neural pathway called the cross-crawl pattern. It develops both sides of the brain while they’re working together. So, if your baby isn’t interested in crawling and you kind of go from just being on the front to walking, you definitely want to make sure you’re challenging them to do some crawling, because again, it’s a critically important reflex that a baby needs to develop.

Toddlers are tough. I’ve got a little two-year-old at home and he is something. But, if you allow your toddler to have a tablet or a phone, that’s your thing, but make sure that if they’re watching TV or they’re on the tablet, that you have their four fingers between the chin and the chest. Because, if they’ve got their chin on their chest, and they’re just looking at an iPad or a phone, the weight of the head plus gravity is going to pull that neck curve out of alignment. And, again, we’ll get into this. But there’s loads of really cool research coming out, that just that forward head carriage that we see has a massive detrimental effect on all those sensory neuro motor controls of the body. Building good ergonomics from cradle all the way through to an adult, is critically important for how we develop as people.

For children sitting at a school desk, or in front of a computer, what is the best ergonomic set up that will allow them to concentrate and be comfortable?

Dr. Luke Stringer: I think this is really important. Kids are expected to sit in these tiny seats and tiny chairs, in the classroom, which may look cute, but ergonomically, they’re not set up very well. So, first and foremost, motion is lotion. We shouldn’t just sit for six, eight hours a day, regardless if you’re five years old in kindergarten, or you’re fifty years old and you work in downtown New York, you’ve got to mix it up. You’ve got to be sitting and standing. A good rule of thumb is to sit for 20 to 30 minutes and then stand for 30 to 40 minutes. And you’re just going up down, up down.

Now, obviously, if that’s not available for kids at school, the standup desk, make sure they’ve got one at home, so doing their studying and doing their homework, they get a chance to stand too. The ergonomics of their workstation at school or home, is really important. How they’re sitting in the chair and how they’re learning. It’s tough to explain this on a podcast, we should start doing some video podcasts, but imagine, when you’re sitting, you’ve got to have a good chair to support the lower back and the spine. And then again, just a good rule of thumb if you’re in class or you’re studying for school, regardless if it’s middle school or high school or college, you want to make sure your chin is four fingers off of your chest, because that creates enough gap between and that keeps your head out of flexion, which is looking forwards, and that’s going to help preserve that neck curve.

If you’ve got your chin on your chest, or you’re just consistently looking down, obviously the further forward your head goes, the more weight transfers forward to drag gravity into that equation and that’s how all these neck curves start getting pulled out of alignment. And I think there’s no coincidence with the amount of kids that are suffering with learning deficiencies and the amount of screen time we’ve got going on right now. So, if you’ve got a kid at home, get a sit/stand desk. Make sure, if they’re watching TV, or on a computer or a tablet, it’s right in front of their eye level and not up, not down and the four fingers from the chin to the chest and you should be in pretty good shape.

Children are hunched over mobile handheld devices for hours at a time. Why is it so important for them to learn sound ergonomics when using these devices?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Yeah, exactly. It’s really important for essentially that. There was a really cool study just done by a really well known chiropractor. He’s more of a researcher now, called Deed Harrison. He runs a technique called chiropractic biophysics, and it is essentially how we practice it and he’s a genius. He’s done this really cool study, that essentially evaluated the curve in your neck and your performance in a kind of sensory neuro motor environment. So, he went through all these really cool hi-tech tests that they’re doing with elite level athletes and fighter pilots. It’s all about reaction time and how quickly you can process information and how well you can balance. There’s some really cool software and some high-end testing that went into it. He published a study and it’s really cool. It, basically, states that the further forward your head is, the lack of curve you have in your neck, the more stress and tension it puts on the nerves in the upper part of your neck. There’s more neurological activity here than anywhere else in your spine, so if that area is under stress, then obviously you’re not going to function on that sensory neuro motor test as well as someone who’s got a good curve. And it’s really interesting to see these kids and adults that just have these really poor neck curves and really far forward, hunched over postures. They just were really poor at these tests, compared with kids who weren’t.

So, first and foremost, I’m not going to tell you how to be a parent, but you should obviously limit time on devices because there’s other stuff that goes into it, sensory neuro stuff, the blue light, et cetera and how it affects physiology. Then obviously, ergonomics is critically important for keeping your spine in alignment and having good posture. So again, back to my point, just looking straight ahead, not down, and if you are looking down, it’s four fingers off your chest. Shoulders are nicely back and relaxed and you’re just feeling those shoulder blades pinch behind you. Then obviously, just like sitting too much, you don’t want to be spending too much time at a workstation, because it’s obviously going to be detrimental for just general function.

In what other aspects of children’s daily routines should sound ergonomics be considered?

Dr. Luke Stringer: All times. I think one that’s missed, which is critically important, is how kids wear their backpacks at school. And then again, there’s some really good research into how much that backpack should weigh in relation to their body weight. 25, 30% of their body weight, their backpack should be absolutely no more than that. If your kid is 100 pounds, you want to limit that backpack to 15 to 20 pounds. Also, you want to make sure, if they’re wearing a backpack, they’ve got two straps, not one strap on. Make sure those straps are pulled nice and tight at the back, snug to the spine.

We actually have a patient here who owns a company called Bixby Kids and he specifically focuses on ergonomic products for kids. We bought a backpack for my little boy and his backpacks are like a rectangle. So, it’s like a backpack, but flipped on its side. It creates more of a surface area in the bag. And he’s got two straps. He’s got a strap that comes around.

I think backpacks and how they’re worn, can have a huge effect on how kids ergonomically develop. So, look into your kid’s backpack. What it is, how heavy it is, and how they wear it’s really important. Something that can go a long way in making sure your kid is nice and healthy.

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