As a child, you were probably told a few times to “Stand up straight!”, “Sit up straight!” or my favorite “Stop Slouching!” Good posture isn’t really about being “straight”. The basis for good posture is a “neutral and balanced” position that minimizes asymmetrical strain on the various joints of the body. That means that we should try to carry the same amount of weight through our joints on both sides of our body as well as from the front to the back.
Why is Posture So Important Today?
Posture has always been important. Historically much more so than in modern times. This importance was passed down from teacher to student, parent to child or grandparent to grandchild through those wonderful affirmations, “Stand up straight!” I not sure that our teachers, parents and grandparents necessarily knew how important posture was in relationship to our health but they did know that their teachers, parents and grandparents reinforced it for them – so it had to be good enough for us. However, in more recent times this “importance” of reinforcing posture has been slipping for various reasons. Over the last 30 years we have witnessed a significant change in the teacher to student, parent to child and grandparent to child dynamic. Telling a student, child or grandchild to “sit up straight” or “stand up straight” to reinforce their posture is no longer an integral part of our cultural experience.
When we couple together the facts that today’s children are not receiving positive postural reinforcement along with regularly taking part in activities that reinforce poor posture such as: television, computers, and video games it is no surprise Doctors of Chiropractic are regularly treating young patients suffering from repetitive strain injuries (RSI). Twenty years ago RSIs were primarily reserved to people working in the data entry or secretarial services. Problem like carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic pain in the hands, back pain, neck pain, headaches and shoulders pain which are symptoms normally related to bad workplace ergonomics. Today we are seeing these conditions rising at an alarming rate in high school students.
A New York Times article reported that over 70% of America’s elementary school students are now regularly using computers in school. It is only a matter of time until the other 30% of students will also be using computers. While this is good for the minds and the future work prospects of these children, it can be damaging to their bodies.
Researchers from Cornell University published a study revealing that 40% of the elementary school children they studied were using computer workstations that created a significant postural risk. While all of the students in the study used work stations that at the very least raised “some concern” about the affects on the students posture.
It is not enough to teach children how to use computers; more emphasis has to be placed on teaching them how to properly use the actual workstations. These are the formative years for an individual, mentally, emotionally and physically. Poor work habits when young can lead to serious health effects that plague that person for the rest of their life. While parents know to watch out for signs of substance abuse in their children, few have any idea of the long-term health effects that can arise from postural problems.
What can you do?
Thankfully, there are certain things you can do to lessen the chances of your child suffering painful and potentially disabling injuries. First and foremost ensure that your child understands how important their posture is by reminding them to “Stand up straight” and “Sit up straight” in a loving way but regularly.
To maintain good posture while standing, it is important to:
- Position your head directly over your shoulders, which should be positioned directly over your pelvis
- Keep some space between your feet, one foot slightly in front of the other
- Keep your abdominal muscles taut (tighten the “core” muscles) and your bottom tucked in
- Bend slightly at the knees
To maintain good posture while sitting, remember to:
- Keep your feet flat on the floor with your hips and knees at a 90 degree angle
- Keep your chin level – practice with a book on your head if it helps!
- Keep your lower back slightly arched – use a “lumbar roll” to maintain proper posture in the lower back if you sit for long periods of time
- Remember to take periodic breaks from sitting and move around a bit or adjust your sitting position from time to time to prevent stress on your spine
If you or your child are suffering from posture related pain despite your best efforts to avoid it, your next stop should be a doctor of chiropractic to prevent the injury worsening and to promote healing. Having your posture and spine fully evaluated if the first step to designing a program to help your body recover.
Dr. Grey Gardner