As we move from the spring time into the summer months our children regain idle time in their daily schedule. For many, this means a greater requirement for parents to come up with camps, activities, sports and play dates to keep our young one’s occupied. Although in the beginning, a lack of routine can be a God sent, especially when that means not having to get everyone up and out of bed, dressed, lunch box and homework done. As the summer months wane so do our ability to keep our kiddos engaged. This is when we often turn to iPads, iPhones, tablets, computers, video games and such to give us all a little break from the action. For many children, this is where bad postural habits are formed, which will ultimately force you to eventually pay thousands of dollars to repair damage to their spine and health. It might even lead to helping me in paying for my children’s college fund unless…
As you have obviously heard by now, the seated posture is pretty terrible for the human frame. As the pillar of strength within the body, the spine is the most affected by this posture. Although the obvious detrimental changes associated with bad posture over time are severe (i.e. early onset osteoarthritis, cosmetic deformities, degenerative disc disease, pain and disability) the greatest harm caused by spending the summer months sitting like a turtle with your head of your shell is the stress placed upon the developing Nervous System. This lesser known, but far more devastating side effect of sitting in the typical American posture (loss of the lower spinal curve, exaggerated upper back rounding and forward head posture) is created with repetitive postures.
The spine has two major functions. #1 is to keep you upright and support you (i.e. your posture) and #2 is to protect and house your spinal cord. A healthy functioning spinal cord is essential to you being healthy overall. The spinal cord is the continuation of the brain as it moves down into the body. It has the enormous task of controlling all the functions in the body. Think of the spinal cord and brain as the air traffic controller of you body. It tells everything where to go, what to do, how long to do it for and when to turn on and off. When your spine is in a healthy posture it appears straight up and down when looking at it from front to back and like the letter “S” when looking at it from the side. So where is the rub you may ask when someone sits?
The problem occurs, especially for children, when a relaxed seated posture distorts and weakens the normal spinal alignment. Although brief and infrequent bouts of this change in position are not a concern, when our children turn to iPads, and phones in the summer months to keep them occupied for hours on end, the spinal cord is stretched like a rubber band to fit into that weakened, distorted structure. So what happens when a spinal cord is under stress for prolonged periods of time?
According to Scheer JK, et al. in the Journal of Neuro-Surgery Spine 2013, a spinal column that assumes a flexed position (exactly like the relaxed seated posture of your kid’s) stresses the nerves, decreases blood flow to the spinal cord, increases pressure in the spinal canal and decreases the space available for the nerves to exit the spine. What this means is that the system in your child’s body that is responsible for helping him or her relate to their environment through touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight will not work as well. Which means your child is far more likely to become sick, get injured, have symptoms and not be able to express their God given potential.
In case you were wondering how this might affect an adults posture if bad posture habits continue into adulthood, keep reading! As you might expect things progressively get worse. Reid in the Journal of Neuro-Surgery Psychiatry 1960 found that in the flexed position (i.e. relaxed seated posture) if an adult had just a 3mm disc protrusion, which is common, the pressure placed on the spinal cord was estimated to be “30 to 40 psi”. This is about the same amount of pressure that is found in the standard truck tire! If you couple this disastrous information with a study done by the University of Colorado, Boulder that found that the weight of a dime on a nerve decreased it’s function by up to 60%. This concept of postural distortion due to prolonged sitting could result in catastrophic health consequences for adults.
So if this information is enough to change your idea of what it means to keep healthy posture habits for you and your children, and you don’t want to fund my kids college fund in order to repair this problem, you might be asking what you can do in order to prevent these issues? Well here comes the good part! Most postural distortions associated with tech usage can be avoided in just three easy steps.
Step one, create a standing workspace for your kid’s video game and computer time. The standing posture practically eliminates the majority of the issues associated with sitting, especially forward head posture and exaggerated upper back rounding. Make sure to place the computer monitor at eye level or slightly above in order to encourage extension in the neck which places the spinal cord in a relaxed position (see the Scheer JK, et al study for more on this topic).
Step two, if your child is using your phone in the seated position, let’s say in the back seat of your car, make sure to place an overstuffed pillow under their hands to elevate the level of the phone. This simple, but effective trick keeps kids from dropping their gaze and head to stare downward causing a flexed head posture. If children choose not to use the pillow during phone usage I recommend making it a part of your families culture to restrict phone usage for the same number of minutes as their age (Example; a 5 yr old would lose the phone for 5 minutes).
Step three, take your child to a chiropractor who specializes in posture correction as soon as possible! If these tips are new to you, chances are your children may have already created postural habits that are leading them towards a less healthy life. A comprehensive evaluation that may include postural photos or even X-rays (if required) will provide an enormous amount of information and an opportunity to repair any current damage. It will also allow for further education and prevention of future spine and nervous system issues.