When we ask our bodies to stay in one posture through the day … it can lead to aches, pains and weaknesses.
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Children’s poor posture is more than appearance; it can affect their health, both short-term and long-term.
In the past 15 months, as children spent more time hunched over screens and less time active, the effect has become more pronounced.
“With all the devices they’re using for online learning, it’s easy to be in poor posture throughout the day,” said chiropractor Erica Callahan, who holds a master’s degree in applied clinical nutrition and teaches at New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls. “We need to be cognizant of posture. We don’t want aches and pains to start earlier than they should.”
She said that children should sit with their bottoms to the back of the chair, with their back in a natural posture, hips and knees bent at 90 degrees and the feet flat. As supportive as that seated posture is, children also need variation, such as sitting on an exercise ball and breaks to stand, stretch and move.
One example Callahan calls the butterfly stretch: stand up straight, put their arms out like wings and move them up, forward and back to stretch the arms and shoulders.
“Even overhead stretching and side to side can help,” Callahan said.
Yoga stretches such as “child pose” may help. To perform this move, children sit on the floor with their legs folded under them and move their arms and chest forward to the floor.
She recommends that children take a short break to get up and move every hour of the day and engage in a physical activity each day.
“When we ask our bodies to stay in one posture through the day, it shortens the muscles in the front and stretches the muscles in the back,” Callahan said. “It can lead to aches and pains and weaknesses. You might not notice it until you’re older. Then those aches and pains are more magnified.”
Chiropractor William Ferris, who practices at Modern Chiropractic & Pain Relief in Victor, said that poor posture can strain muscles, ligaments and tendons.
“It translates into strain on the skeletal system,” he added. “It leads to chronic pain syndromes. That leads to an inability to focus for the kids.”
He has observed more patients coming in lately with slumped posture and the accompanying posture-related pain syndromes, including headaches, neck pain and back pain. Like Callahan, he recommends hourly movement in addition to regular exercise.
Chiropractor Larry Peshkin, with Irondequoit Chiropractic Center, said that the poor posture in children has become chronic because of the pandemic.
“When people sit for long periods of time in a home environment that’s not properly set up ergonomically, it’s problematic,” Peshkin said. “We’re seeing problems younger and younger. We constantly run into issues with patients developing early onset joint diseases. The first reason is poor posture and poor ergonomics.”
In addition to slumping over devices, Peshkin points blame at overly heavy backpacks. While many children have been schooling remotely for at least part of the time, when they attend school inperson, their backpacks are often stuffed with too much. That problem has worsened because some schools have not allowed children to visit their lockers because of the pandemic.
“I tell our patients with children with backpacks they should never weigh more than 5% to 10% of the child’s body weight,” Peshkin said. “Shoulder straps should be padded, adjusted and not worn only over one shoulder. Backpacks should have an internal frame to distribute the weight evenly like a hiking backpack. The best one is a wheeled backpack, like you’d take on an airplane.”
One negative outcome of poor posture is upper crossed syndrome, in which opposing muscles in the front and back of the neck, chest and shoulders are under and overused.
“Ninety percent of the patients who walk in here have upper crossed syndrome,” Peshkin said.
The condition may manifest with numbness in the hands, headache, vertigo and rounding of the shoulders. It can even cause issues with the rotator cuff of the shoulders. Peshkin said that over time, upper cross syndrome can contribute to early arthritis, poor breathing and reduced physical performance.
He encourages people to visit a chiropractor for an evaluation in the routine way that they should visit their dentist for regular cleanings, not just when they’re in pain. At home, children need more movement in their day, especially while they are educating at home.