Building your child's core
A physical therapist explains why a strong core is important to your child’s health
You probably have never thought about this, but you begin training your core as an infant. Babies are great examples of how being active can build a solid core. From the time when they begin lifting their heads up they are training their core. They continue with rolling, pushing up onto hands, sitting and reaching, crawling, pulling to stand, squatting and walking through their first year of life. Then as toddlers they begin to traverse uneven surfaces, climb, run and jump. Your child has gone through some serious core training. Then modern day life kicks in and we teach our kids to sit still and focus on electronics. They, in turn, lose the control and strength they have built through earlier development.
I am shocked at the number of patients we see where bad posture plays a role in their pain and physical limitations. Whether it be sports injuries, overuse injuries or postural dysfunction, the trend is younger patients are starting to report more injuries. I see technology driving our kids to be more active in an online space than it does in a physical space.
So I would like to take a minute to address how to get our kids active again, but not just any activity. I want to talk about core activity.
What is the core?
The core is a muscular system that works synergistically to provide support and power generation to the body in all positions and with every activity. Think of a soda can to explain the core. The can has a front (deep abdominals), back (multifidi muscles), top (diaphragm muscle) and bottom (pelvic floor muscles). And just like the can, as long as no one pokes a hole in it, it is very strong. As soon as someone creates a weak spot in the can/core, it can easily be crushed.
When do you use your core?
The core should be used during all of life’s daily tasks, but we lose this ability as children when no one teaches us how to use the core during modern-day tasks such as playing on your Ipad or texting your friends.
How do I train the core of a child?
Return to the basics. Too often we see young athletes who have been given formal instruction in how to pitch a ball or perform a round-off back handspring, but little or no training on what it means to use their core functionally. Schools have our kids doing pushups before teaching how to plank. Physical therapy can definitely help patients of all ages with core training, but there are also some things you can do at home. For really young children (3-6yrs) this can mean returning to games that require you to hold positions, such as Twister or Untying the Knot. For slightly older children (7-12yrs), yoga or even just plank holds (3 positions) help build core strength and endurance. For our teens and young adults more formalized training for power generation and power transfer using the core can be very beneficial.
What does a strong core mean?
For your child a strong core means improved performance in their activities whether that is football, dance or band. It can mean no pain when sitting in class or when trying to be active with peers.
For parents, a strong core means fewer complaints from your child, better posture, and less risk of injury while your child is performing their activities.
If you or your child would like help with core training, please contact your physician and seek a referral to Cook Children’s Physical Therapy Department.
More SPORTS resources related to this topic:
John Stanley, a physical therapist and SPORTS Rehab Clinical Coordinator at Cook Children's. The Cook Children's Sports Performance Orthopedic Rehab Team Specialists (SPORTS) program offers care to children and adolescents with orthopedic or sports-related injuries.