Kids should be taught proper posture and encouraged to maintain it throughout all daily activities so that their growth and development is not impacted by the negative effects poor posture has on the spine and nervous system.
Could you start by explaining why proper posture is so important for children’s growth and development?
Dr. Luke Stringer: I feel posture is essentially the window to your spine/health. Essentially, poor posture can manifest into many different types of symptoms and manifestations. Proper posture is super important for several reasons we’re obviously going to get into here.
Posture, essentially poor posture, chronic poor posture, can obviously create symptoms: headache, neck pain, low back pain. But when we’re in chronic poor posture, we’re in that chronic stress state, so it can affect hormone regulation, which can manifest as kind of dysfunctions, so things such as you have poor sleep, mood, energy levels, metabolism, sensory disorders. Obviously, that is going to affect how your child grows and then essentially develops both, for example, if you’re talking about posture at school in a classroom or just socially and developmentally. So good posture is absolutely key for your kiddo to essentially grow big and strong and kind of doing everything they should be doing.
What are the negative effects of having chronic poor posture at a young age?
Dr. Luke Stringer: A couple of things that we typically see in our office, chronic poor posture can manifest as symptoms, right? So, if we’re just focusing on the upper portion of the body here, when you evaluate good posture from the side, the ear should be on top of shoulder. But if we’re looking down at a tablet all day, then that allows that neck to start shifting forwards. That’s going to create stress and tension in the muscles at the base of the neck, create headaches, it can create tension in the neck and the upper back and create neck and upper back pain. But remember, if you are in a poor posture, it essentially means we’re in a state of chronic stress.
There are several forms of stress, but postural stress can put the nervous system under stress. So, it puts us in what we call more of a sympathetic nervous system, which should be reserved for fight or flight. So, like when you’re getting rear-ended and eyes go wide and the neck stands up, so that obviously releases cortisol into the body. Cortisol blocks insulin reception, insulin’s not getting absorbed, it’s getting a spike on blood sugar and that’s just going to have a mass effect on our hormone regulation. Then that can manifest as what we call lifestyle diseases. So, inability to concentrate, poor mood, sleep, energy levels, metabolism. So, we can see lots of other things that aren’t just symptom based and that’s typically what we see in our kiddos, essentially kind of manifesting into more dysfunction than it is necessarily kind of symptoms.
What are some bad posture habits that parents should watch out for?
Dr. Luke Stringer: The biggest one and the simplest one for me is watching how your child is looking at their tablet or working from their workstation or reading a book. It’s called flexion. Flexion essentially means that we’re closing the angle. So, flexion in your head is going to be bringing your chin down onto your chest, so looking down.
So, when I’m out with my wife getting the groceries or shopping, running errands, my wife’s a chiropractor too, it kind of really kind of makes us alarmed when all these kiddos that are two years old are in a stroller and they’re just chins planted on their chest and they’re just looking down at their waist. Obviously, the average weight of a head in an adult is 10 to 12 pounds, obviously as a kid it’s about half that. But if you are looking down and your head’s around five to six pounds and you add gravity to the equation, that’s essentially over time going to shift the spine out of alignment and creates what we call that tech neck. So, the spine goes straight, this creates a massive amount of tension in the muscles, in the neck, in the spine. That’s obviously going to break us down, create symptoms and manifest dysfunction.
So really quickly and simply, if everyone listening grabs their hand, places their little finger right in the kind of sternum notch right between the collarbones there and then they bring down their chin, their chin should not be any closer to their chest than the four fingers that we’ve got between the chin and the sternum. So, if you’ve got a kiddo at home and you’re at a workstation on a tablet watching a phone, I get it, we need to do that. Just make sure there’s four fingers between the chin and the sternum and that’s going to keep them out of flexion and that’s going to allow them to essentially keep their cervical spinal alignment.
What should parents consider when purchasing a new school backpack for their child?
Dr. Luke Stringer: Yeah, great question. We actually partner up with a company called Bixbee. Bixbee is a kids’ brand that’s specifically designed around ergonomics. So, they came out with a great backpac. But, a couple of things, make sure the backpack is double strapped. We want to make sure the backpack weighs no more than 20% of the kid’s body weight. A chest strap is also handy. The Bixbee backpack, actually they’ve spun it around so instead of it being in portrait, it’s landscape so when you’re putting your books in, there’s just a better even load across the back.
What we typically see with our backpacks, typically the biggest driver of creating poor posture is there’s too much weight in the backpack. So, you’ve got way too many books in there and all the school supplies and it’s weighing more than 20% of their body weight.
The second thing we see is the straps aren’t tight, they’re really low, really untight. So, the straps are on the shoulders, so that allows a lot of space between the backpack and the spine that’s going to kind of pull us back. So, it’s going to create a lot of low back stress and tension. The spine works in kinematic, so if in one area the spine goes one way, the other area has to go the other way. So, then that allows your upper back and your neck to shift forward to counterbalance the weight. Then that obviously creates kind of poor posture.
Then a lot of kids too, only are going to wear a single strap. That’s obviously going to create a lot of stress on one side of the body, or you wear that cross-body strap, which is the same thing.
So, when we’re getting a new backpack, take a look at Bixbee, their ergonomically designed specifically for kids in the way the backpack’s made in regard to landscape, not portrait. But any backpack’s going to be okay essentially. But, make sure the straps are tight to the shoulder, if you have a chest strap you’re using it, and the biggest thing is the weight of the backpack is no more than 20% of the body weight of your kid. And if you’re doing that, you should be in good shape.
How should parents help their children to correct their posture and establish proper posture so that they are ready to sit properly in school?
Dr. Luke Stringer: If you feel that your kiddo has poor posture and/or they’re dealing with postural symptoms, so low back pain, neck pain, headaches, or it’s manifested in inability to concentrate at school, things of that nature, then get him to see a chiropractor. A chiropractor is a spinal specialist, they’re going to be able to figure out where the spine has shifted, how it shifted, and obviously going to prescribe treatment around those shifts which are creating the pain and dysfunction.
Then with the chiropractor, you’re going to be able to figure out essentially a good postural routine. So, I encourage all patients, regardless if it’s a kiddo or an adult to use a sit-stand desk. Good rule of thumb: 20 minutes sitting, 40 minutes standing. Motion is lotion. We want to be in several postures throughout the day, just not one posture. We want to make sure we’re taking posture breaks during the workday, so engaging those muscles that pick up on movement and that if we’re not moving get weak and lazy. So those muscles sit deep in the neck, deep between the shoulder blades.
Then doing some posture work throughout the week. So, engaging the muscles that need to be engaged that aren’t engaged when we’re sedentary. So again, doing specific exercises to engage those posture muscles. Then practicing good ergonomics. making sure we’re sitting nice and close to the desk, there’s a good 90-degree bend in the knee, feet are flat on the floor, we’re able to sit in a little bit of a reclined position in the chair and we’re not leaning forward in flexion, shoulders are back, 90-degree bend in the elbow, not much flexion extension in the wrist, so not pointing up or down, screen is around three feet away, we’re looking straight on maybe a five-degree tilt, and looking down, we’ve got four fingers between our chin and chest. And then making sure we’re following through on moving around and taking postural breaks during our workday.
These are all things that are really simple things to do and are extremely effective. Any kind of reputable chiropractor is going to be able to assist you with being able to figure out what is going on and then essentially how to be proactive outside the office.
If you are interested in speaking with Dr. Luke Stringer visit www.southloopchiropractor.com or call (312) 987-4878 to schedule an appointment.