Proper posture is critical to our overall health so it is important to teach children good habits at a young age. Setting limits on the use of handheld technology like mobile phones, tablets and gaming systems, as well as encouraging children to stand for periods of time, take breaks and stretch are just some of the ways parents can prevent children from developing poor posture.
Children are constantly hunched over texting or playing games on mobile devices. How is this prolonged hunched over position affecting their posture?
Dr. Luke Stringer: Great question and observation. I won’t say all children are hunched over, but unfortunately, there are a lot of kids out there that are spending far too much time on a tablet or on a phone. It’s one of my pet peeves when I’m out doing the groceries or running errands, seeing all these kids just hunched over with their chin on their chest.
But essentially, motion is lotion, we are designed to move, so, if we are in any set posture for an extended period of time, regardless if it is good posture or not good posture, then that is repetitive stress. Repetitive stresses over time take its toll on our physical and physiological state and well-being. So, if we’re consistently in a posture, then muscles, ligaments, tendons, soft tissue are going to adapt to that posture. So is the bone of the spine, the spine’s going to shift.
If we all view our heads like a bowling ball, in your mind’s eye, you’re carrying the bowling ball, it’s really tight to your shoulder and your chest. It doesn’t get too heavy too quickly. But as the bowling ball goes away from your chest as you reach it out, there’s the same weight. It gets a lot heavier. So, now imagine a kid’s head, average could be anywhere from 8 to 10 pounds. If they’re sitting upright, shoulders are back, the ear is on top of shoulder, looking straight ahead, then the spine’s designed to absorb that force in the curve, since this is why we have the curves in the spine to absorb force, that’s why it’s so strong. But then, as we stick the head out and we transfer that net force, and then we look down, well, that transfers weight forwards and then brings the head into flexion, and that’s the opposite what our spine should be doing.
So then, if we’ve shifted an eight pound object, head, two inches forwards, and then we brought it where we’re locking down into flexion, that’s going to increase the stress and tension that we put into the soft tissue in the spine. So over time, that tension’s going to adapt that tissue, it’s called the creep effect, and the creep effect’s going to allow soft tissue to heat up. When it heats up, it changes the structure of that soft tissue or that bone. So essentially, that’s how you will end up in that posture for a prolonged period of time. I’m sure we’re going to discuss this, here, in a moment, but that posture just wrecks kids. They just don’t function well in that posture.
How should kids be texting and using their phones to try to stay in proper posture?
Dr. Luke Stringer: Great question. I’m not going to give anyone parenting lessons, obviously, screen time and tablet time and all their books should be limited, regardless, not just if they’re doing it in the perfect posture or not. But a quick slip and check if you’re watching your child and they’re working from the tablet or they’re on the phone, check where their chin is in regard to their chest. And this is the same for adults if we’re reading a book in bed or we’re on our phone on a couch, all we need to do is just sit up straight, open your hand, palm your hand. You’re going to put your little finger right in that little notch in between your collarbones in your sternum. And you’re going to gently bring your chin down towards your chest, and then that is as much flexion as we should allow ourselves.
So if you are watching your child on the phone or a tablet and you can’t squeeze four fingers between the chin and the sternum, then they have too much flexion looking forward in their neck. And that has a really detrimental effect to their posture and, essentially, their nervous system and how they feel and function on a physiological level. That’s a quick slip and check that you can consistently do. Then just build that habit if you’re letting your kids play in a tablet on the phone, which we all do, make sure when they’re doing it, they’re doing it in good posture.
What health or developmental issues are caused by having poor posture at an early age?
Dr. Luke Stringer: Great question. It’s always a tough one to discuss, but as a chiropractor, we understand the functionality of the nervous system, and obviously, the nervous system controls everything we do, how the body feels, how it functions on a physical and a physiological level. So, I want to discuss what we call the sympathetic nervous system. You have two types of nervous systems. You’ve got parasympathetic, which is what we call rest and digest. That’s a relaxed environment. That’s where we get to digest our food. We discussed on our previous podcast, sleeping, where we clean our body, clean ourselves. And then you’ve got sympathetic. Sympathetic nervous system is called the fight or flight, like being rear-ended or being chased by a bear, eyes open up, hairs on the back of your neck stand up, that’s fight or flight.
We’re chronically in that rounded shoulders, hunched over posture. Then what happens is, that consistently puts our body in a state of stress. When we’re in a state of stress, it increases the cortisol, cortisol blocks hormone receptions, particularly insulin. When insulin gets into the bloodstream, it obviously affects hormone proliferation and regulations. So, we’re, then, consistently in the sympathetic nervous system. And we typically see in adults things such as poor sleep patterns, poor mood, poor energy levels, inability to gain or lose weight. Just what we call those lifestyle diseases, those metabolic diseases.
But what we see clinically in kids here is, they manifest in more of those sensory disorders. So, we have a lot of children in the office that are brought in from their parents. Typically, they are sensory, this ADD, ADHD, autism, and typically, what we find, I’m talking case study here and what I’m seeing in the patients that we see, but too many parents will bring their kids in and they’ve been through, you know it, you name it. They’ve got all the tests and all the medications. And obviously, as a parent, you don’t really want your kids consistently doing tests or taking them. Now, there’s a time and a place for everything.
But when we do a little deeper dive and we look at the spine, typically what we find is that posture that we’re just discussing here; the head shifted forwards, the heads come down and it’s looking towards the floor. So, what this does, it creates change in the upper cervicals, the C-1, the C-2, C cervical one and twos, just the first two bones. Those two nerves go back into your head, and they sit right underneath the skull, and that’s where the brain stem comes up. You have more nervous system activity at those two joint levels than anywhere else in your entire body. So, if you’re in this chronic posture, and your head shifted falls and your head’s looking down, and those joints are subluxated, they’re shifted, your consistently in that sympathetic zone. It will manifest in kids with similar, just inability to concentrate, they don’t like sensory information, the diet’s off, behavioral issues. That’s how it typically manifests for us that we’re seeing in the clinic, which is unfortunate.
For children sitting at a desk doing work or playing games on a computer, what is the best way for them to set up their desk and chair to promote proper posture?
Dr. Luke Stringer: Great question. So, motion is lotion. A sit-stand desk is, predominantly, for the corporate athlete, but that’s a great way for your kid to start doing their homework at home. So spending, the rule of thumb’s 20 to 30 minutes sitting, 30 to 40 minutes standing, and obviously, sitting and standing in good posture. And then, obviously, if they’re playing games on a computer, why not get a sit-stand desk for the computer so they can both sit and stand. Then make sure we’re taking that slip and check, make sure that the chin is four fingers off of the chest. Then, let’s spend the last five minutes of the hour, every hour, just doing some postural breaks. Regardless if you’re studying for a test or you’re playing Call of Duty or Fortnite, I think, kids play. My kid’s too young and they won’t be playing computer games.
Take some postal breaks the last five minutes of the hour, every hour, pop in, put the game on pause, or tell them to sit up and then go through some postural work. Draw that chin close to your chest. That’s going to engage those neck flexors, that keeps the neck back. Work on the muscles between the shoulder blades so we’re getting that shoulder blade to retract, because that’s what keeps the shoulder blades back. If we are sedentary, muscles that control posture pick up on movement, and if we’re not moving, they just get weak and lazy. Then the muscles that we’re consistently using to move us are, then, trying to stabilize. So that’s how we create those compensatory patterns and develop that poor posture.
Are there any exercises or stretches kids can be doing every day to help offset or correct their poor posture?
Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely. Poor posture or good posture, we should be doing these exercises just proactively. I’d say the best bang for our buck is the, what we call the chin tuck. So imagine, in your minds eye, you’re standing against the wall. You don’t even have to be standing against the wall. We do it in the clinic. We put a yoga block between our shoulder blades and you’re going to stand up, you’re going to look straight in front of you, and the whole idea is to draw the chin towards your neck. So you give yourself a double chin.
If you jump on our YouTube channel, we’ve got a ton of videos on posture and postural breaks. I’d say that’s a great exercise that’s going to be really effective for kids because that’s going to engage those neck flexors. Those neck flexors in front of your neck help keep the head back and help keep the curve in.
And another great exercise to do is just do some movement with the shoulders, particularly the shoulder blade. We call it the wall angel. Stand against the wall, lift your arms up, make sure your wrist and elbows or on the wall, and then just slowly slide the arm down, keeping the elbow and the wrist in contact with the wall. Feel a pinch between shoulder blades, slide the arm up. Again, our YouTube channel’s got some great resources for postural breaks and postural exercise for both kids and adults.
But yes, I would absolutely build into your kid’s routine from school, if he’s studying or just gaming or even playing sports, just some postural exercise to help maintain posture. Because unfortunately, we all don’t move enough and we spend too much time in one place, typically sitting. Over time, that’s how we can develop that poor posture, unfortunately.
If you are interested in speaking with Dr. Luke Stringer visit www.southloopchiropractor.com or call (312) 987-4878 to schedule an appointment.