'Sit up straight.' 'Stop slouching.'
Your child's posture may be cause of back pain.
“Sit up straight!”
Why is my kid’s posture so poor?
Do you get sick and tired of telling your child to sit up straight? Do you ever wonder why so many kids these days have slouched posture and often complain of back pain?
Let’s take a moment to think about a child’s typical day during the week.
- They spend six hours a day at a desk in school. Most of this time is spent writing notes or typing with their hands in front of them and their head looking down.
- When they are not in school, much time is spent playing video games, playing on their smartphones, surfing the Internet on the computer or texting. Again, arms are in front of them and head is down
- They carry around a backpack that often weighs almost as much as they do and often times wear it low, resting on their low back or bottom. Backpacks should weigh no more than 10 percent of their body weight, be worn on both shoulders and fit snuggly to their back.
In April of 2012 – Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine published an article stating that only 51 percent of children went outside to walk or play per day with either parent.
Another national study found that the average American age 8-18 plays video games for greater than 13 hours per week. Studies also show that children today spend half as much time outdoors as their parents did when they were young. These kids prefer to stay inside to watch TV, surf the Internet, listen to music and even do their homework, rather than go play outside.
How it affects the kids
The positions discussed above, which kids are in for a large majority of their day, place the muscles on the front of their chest into a shortened position. After a while, it is difficult to stretch those muscles back out to attain proper posture independently. Tight muscles on the front of their chest cause them to continue to sit with their shoulders rounded forward and thus the cycle continues. The muscles in the front of their neck also become tightened, pulling their head forward. A forward head can also cause the muscles at the base of the skull in the back of the head to become tense.
Unfortunately, the inactivity caused by the increased time spent indoors also contributes to a poor core. The core consists of the muscles around the center of your body that help your back stay up straight. Without an active core, it is very difficult to maintain good posture and fatigue will set in quickly. A weak core in combination with prolonged periods of inactivity will likely lead to a cycle that is difficult to break, causing poor posture.
What to do
Have a homework station set up for kids. Doing homework on the bed or floor often makes posture worse and increases the curvature of their back while they are sitting. Kids should sit in a chair where their feet can touch the floor and their hips and knees are at 90 degrees. The table height should be so that their forearms are able to rest comfortably while they are working so that their shoulders can relax.
They should be in the same sitting posture for the computer and the screen should be at eye-level to keep their head in a good position as well. There are shelves made to lift computer screens up to eye-level, however, a large dictionary will often do the trick, as well.
The American Heart Association’s recommendation for physical activity for children is at least 60 minutes of moderate-vigorous intensity aerobic activity at least every day. As a parent, try to encourage your child to be active for at least one hour a day, either at school or at home. If you cannot find the time for your child to perform 60 minutes of straight activity, try to perform at least 30 minutes of activity twice per day.
It is never normal for a child to experience back pain or consistent headaches. If your child is experiencing either of these symptoms and is not actively being treated by a healthcare provider, please discuss these concerns with their doctor. Physical therapy can assist with improving posture and core strength to eliminate back pain.
Amanda Stukey, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist for the SPORTS program at Cook Children's. Our physicians, therapists, nurses and technologists work exclusively with kids and understand the unique needs of a growing athlete's bones, muscles, body and mind.